Officials rap on-again off-again approach to vaccine rollout

Feb 24, 2021

The first state-run mass vaccination clinic on the South Coast is set to begin operating on Feb. 24 — and Southcoast Health clinics will be once again administering doses in the region after a weeklong hiatus. But officials say efforts by individual towns to vaccinate their residents, like the ones in Marion and Mattapoisett, are unlikely to continue.

Tri-Town officials and state-level politicians called Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine rollout plan into question after first

vaccine doses were pulled from local health departments and hospitals across the state last week, before being quickly reimplemented.

“I think it was a problematic decision because in many many cases — not just here in the Tri-Town area, but around the state — so many boards of health and other groupings were doing a great job reaching a hard to reach senior population,” State Rep. William Strauss said of taking the doses away from health departments.

Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail said that he and other town officials who helped put together clinics that administered nearly 1,000 doses of the vaccine to emergency personnel and elderly Marion residents were disappointed to see the doses diverted to mass vaccination sites.

In Mattapoisett, an effort to vaccinate elderly residents has been halted after hundreds of doses were administered to residents.

The Board of Health announced in an email to residents that registration for its clinics would end on Feb. 24, and residents already registered would be notified when more doses become available. Those who have already received their first dose are assured a second dose, according to the town.

Rochester’s effort to vaccinate its residents never saw the light of day, despite having been in the works for weeks.

All three towns have encouraged their residents to seek out alternative clinics.

But doses were initially diverted away from larger clinics in the region, too.

Clinics run by Southcoast Health in Wareham and Dartmouth had been up and running until the state announced on Feb. 12 it would no longer provide local sites with the vaccine.

Following an abrupt reversal of that decision, Southcoast Health sites will once again be administering doses in the region after a weeklong hiatus.

Southcoast’s clinic had provided nearly 1,000 doses in Wareham — and nearly 3,000 in the wider region. Southcoast Health was prepared to scale operations up to tens of thousands of vaccines per week, according to a Feb. 12 statement from the healthcare system.

Shawn Badgley, Southcoast’s public information officer, confirmed that Southcoast Health’s clinics in Wareham, Dartmouth and Fall River would be up and running again later this week.

“We’re able to make these new appointments available based on recently received supply,” Badgley said. “Across our three clinics, we’ll be able to administer about 4,000 doses.”

Badgley said he couldn’t provide specific days and times that the clinics would be offering appointments, but he said “our clinics will be getting shots in arms through the weekend.”

Frst-doses began to be administered oncce again on Feb. 24.

The state policy allowing people who bring eligible patients to themselves also get vaccinated only applies at state-run clinics.

The commonwealth had ostensibly halted vaccinations at the Southcoast sites and other town-run clinics to prioritize its own mass vaccination sites.

Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders wrote local health officials on Feb. 17, noting that the vaccine “demand vastly exceeds current supply.”

The mass vaccine site at an old Circuit City store in Dartmouth will be run by Curative Inc., a Los Angeles-based company launched in January 2020 to develop a new sepsis test, but which pivoted to Covid testing in March last year.

Curative is already running mass vaccine clinics in Springfield and Danvers, both of which ran into organizational issues earlier this month.

In Springfield, senior citizens were left waiting in long lines outdoors in the cold, reportedly resulting in the National Guard being called in to help.

At the Danvers clinic, disorganization around extra doses reportedly left some with appointments unvaccinated, while others without appointments reportedly received the vaccine.

The website to book appointments at the state’s mass clinics had already crashed as millions became eligible for the vaccine in the second part of Phase 2 last week.

It is unclear how Curative was awarded the contract from the state, but Baker is expected to appear before the state’s covid-19 Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee on Thursday to address how companies were awarded contracts and other issues related to the vaccine rollout.

State Sen. Mark Montigny, representing Mattapoisett, signed a letter along with 41 other legislators expressing concern over the governor’s decision to close municipal sites.

“This decision represents yet another substantial and abrupt change to our vaccination process,” the letter read, adding that the state’s decision “goes even further to jeopardize the Commonwealth’s commitment to equity and serving our most vulnerable populations.”

The legislators also claim that prioritizing mass vaccination is “inequitable to seniors,” alleging that while state signups have improved, many seniors prefer to schedule their shots through local resources. Additionally, they claim that seniors are “uncomfortable” with going to sites that are often 30 to 45 minutes away from their communities.

“Our local officials and public health experts are already frustrated at the lack of vaccine distribution to their communities,” they wrote. “The decision to halt supply to these sites further undermines Public Health Officials’ ability to vaccinate those who need the vaccine the most.”

Meanwhile, State Sen. Marc Pacheco, representing Marion, said the effort to shift to mass vaccination sites could bring vaccines to more people.

“It’s frustrating, and I understand in particular how frustrated a lot of local communities are,” Pacheco said. “But what they’re trying to do is trying to maximize the amount of vaccine the state has and get it done as quickly as possible.”

Pacheco himself has been unable to get vaccinated, despite being eligible. He said he recommends that his constituents take the same steps as he is taking, including frequently checking Massachusetts vaccination websites and the websites of pharmacies that distribute the vaccine.

He added that he’s working with the state to bring vaccines to vulnerable people that may have a hard time accessing the vaccine.

“We need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as quickly as possible, with the allotments we’re getting, and not have them wasted at all,” Pacheco said.