Mass. Gives People 75 or Older Higher COVID Vaccine Priority, Releases First Responder Plan

The next set of people in Massachusetts who will receive the vaccine are first responders, who can begin to be vaccinated starting next Monday, Jan. 11, Gov. Charlie Baker said

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What to Know

  • Massachusetts' roughly 45,000 first responders can begin to be vaccinated starting next Monday, Jan. 11, with several options available for doing so
  • The 75-plus age group is now part of Phase 2, Group 1 in Massachusetts' vaccine rollout, which moves about 170,000 people up in the process
  • Gov. Charlie Baker said that the state hasn't received any reports of vaccine doses being lost

People age 75 or older have been moved higher up in the order of Massachusetts' coronavirus vaccination plan, officials said Monday, as they released details on when the next group to get the vaccines, first responders, will be able to get them.

The 75-plus age group is now part of Phase 2, Group 1 in the rollout, joining people with two co-morbid conditions as those considered at high risk for complications from COVID-19, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said at a news conference. They had previously been listed later in Phase 2. (See Massachusetts' full COVID vaccine timeline here.)

The change affects about 170,000 people and was recommended by the state's advisory board.

But the next set of people who will receive the vaccine are the state's roughly 45,000 first responders, the third of seven groups in Phase 1, who can begin to be vaccinated starting next Monday, Jan. 11, Gov. Charlie Baker said at the news conference.

Gov. Charlie Baker details vaccine distribution for first responders in Mass.

"Police officers, firefighters EMTs and all first responders work in risky situations every day and this vaccine will protect them from COVID and the terrible illness that can come with it," Baker said.

There are three options for getting the vaccine, outlined on the state's first responder vaccination website:

  • Departments that meet certain criteria, like being able to vaccinate at least 200 first responders and store the doses on-site, can administer the shots themselves. Some ambulance companies have already signed up, Sudders said.
  • More than 60 sites have been stood up to give first responders the vaccine. (See the list here.)
  • The state is working on developing four mass vaccination sites that can vaccinate up to 2,000 people per day, the details of which are still yet to be released. Baker said it's likely those sites would continue to be used after first responders are vaccinated.

The president of the Massachusetts firefighters union said the mass vaccination sites will include Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium and the Big E fairgrounds. Asked to confirm those locations, Baker and Sudders said they are still waiting for contracts to be signed before sharing more information later this week.

Health officials on Sunday announced 3,110 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 105 additional deaths as the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus across Massachusetts continues to increase. The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has increased again, to 2,291.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths is near record levels, though the number of new cases is under half the record for the state.

"Obviously, due to the holidays there are a few lags in the reporting and fewer people getting tested. We expect that will catch up pretty quickly and give us a better picture about where our current trends stand in the next few days," Baker said.

The Department of Public Health will be sharing a new interactive, user-friendly dashboard with information about COVID-19 in the state.

He also said that the post-Christmas surge in coronavirus cases, which includes a record number of cases reported on Thursday, appears not to be as bad as the one Massachusetts had after Thanksgiving.

But he cautioned that the state still isn't seeing the effects of New Year's, and he noted that, "since Thanksgiving, the average age of the people who are being hospitalized has increased dramatically," from about 60 to around 73.

"That has real consequences with respect to life and death," the governor said.

The news conference was held amid scrutiny nationwide over the slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines, but Baker said that the state hasn't received any reports of doses being lost. Sudders said she's hearing that providers with extra shots are reaching out to others in their communities in an informal way to make sure they get used.

"Nobody wants to waste," she said.

Despite some bumps in the road in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process, Baker said Massachusetts has received the 287,000 doses it originally expected by the end of the year. Just over 116,000 doses have been confirmed as given out, though officials cautioned that there's a lag in reporting when doses are administered and that some of the shots are reserved for second doses.

Governor Charlie Baker said that residents need to stay safe as we go into a new year.

Firefighters have criticized the intended approach for first-responder vaccination, saying that local boards of health "are not structurally prepared" for it. Baker has said the state's approach will need to work from an administrative and data-reporting perspective, and take into account that communities structure their public safety programs in different ways.

The first patients at the state's new coronavirus field hospital at UMass Lowell were set to arrive Monday. The hospital is expected to lessen the burden inside Lowell General Hospital and other nearby medical facilities treating COVID-19 patients.

Baker's new coronavirus restrictions took effect last month in Massachusetts. They include a crack down on gatherings and businesses and a requirement that hospitals halt most elective surgeries.

Starting Dec. 26 and running until at least noon on Jan. 10, restaurants, movie theaters, performance venues, casinos, offices, places of worship, retail businesses, fitness centers, health clubs, libraries, golf facilities, driving and flight schools, arcades, museums, and "sectors not otherwise addressed" must limit their customer capacity to a maximum of 25%.

Beginning Saturday, Massachusetts businesses will only be able to operate at 25% capacity, down from 40%. The gathering limit is also being reduced to 10 people inside and 25 outside under Gov. Charlie Baker's latest round of restrictions.

All indoor gatherings and events will be limited to 10 people, while all outdoor gatherings and events will be limited to 25 people. Workers and staff are excluded from events' occupancy counts. The gatherings limit applies to private homes, event venues and public spaces.

Massachusetts hospitals must push back or cancel most elective inpatient invasive procedures that are nonessential as well, the state has announced.

NBC10 Boston, State House News Service and Associated Press
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