One Million More Eligible for Vaccine; Haverhill, Methuen, Lawrence Exempt from Local Cuts

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said more than half of the 75-plus population has already been vaccinated for COVID-19, a factor in the decision to open up vaccines to people 65 and older. (Sam Doran/SHNS.)

Massachusetts will roughly double the population eligible for COVID-19 vaccines Thursday, when people over age 65, residents and staff of affordable and low-income housing for seniors, and people with two or more health conditions that put them at higher risk may make appointments.

As the state expands eligibility, it’s also focusing on high-capacity locations like mass vaccination sites and regional collaboratives to deliver the shots which Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration says is designed to streamline the process of immunizing as many people as possible.

“We started with a very deliberate and very particular and what I would describe as a very equitably framed process at the beginning of this, but the big message we got from the public was vaccinate, vaccinate,” Baker said at a press conference, slapping his hand for emphasis. “And there’s no question the fastest way to do this is with high-volume sites.”

In a letter sent to local boards of health Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the state needs to streamline its vaccine administration to address supply constraints and the challenge of vaccinating wider swaths of the population. While that means most of the state beginning March 1 will not receive local vaccines, Haverhill, Methuen and Lawrence are among 20 cities and towns that will continue. Baker explained why.

“Utilizing the CDC’s vulnerability index as a starting point, the Department of Public Health has identified to 20 municipalities that have had the greatest COVID burden and the greatest percentage of non-white residents,” he said.

About 70,000 appointments at mass vaccine sites in Springfield, Danvers, Boston and Foxborough become available around 8 a.m., Thursday, for the newly eligible populations and for those who previously qualified for the shots—people age 75 and older, the staff and residents of nursing and congregate care facilities and health care workers.

News of the coming expansion sent people flooding to the state’s vaccine-booking website. In a state with a population of about 6.9 million, about 1.1 million people are currently eligible for vaccines, and approximately another million will join them.

Administration officials cautioned it could take more than a month for all the new groups to secure vaccine appointments, urging continued patience as they again pointed to high demand that outpaces the limited, but growing supply of shots from the federal government.

Next week, Sudders said, federal officials will increase Massachusetts' weekly first-dose supply to 139,000 from about 110,000.

State lawmakers plan to examine the vaccine rollout at an oversight hearing next week, which the COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee announced in a statement where top Democrats knocked the plans as frequently changing.

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