25 Investigates: MA’s top vaccine rollout doctor says evolving federal policy is big hurdle

BOSTON — Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said this week, the state had administered 239,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. Per capita, the state has given out fewer doses than any other New England state, according to the most recent available CDC data.

It trails behind states like Colorado and Tennessee, which have received a similar amount of doses.

“So I think absolutely, everybody wants to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. And we’re trying to get our heads around, where there might be inefficiency and how to fix it,” said Paul Biddinger, MD, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and chair of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine advisory group.

Biddinger told anchor and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh several things account for a slow rollout; a lag in data reporting, a sluggish process getting doses to the states long term care facilities, and reluctance among healthcare workers and others in the first priority group to get the vaccine.

But, he says the process is ramping up now with the opening of Gillette Stadium as a mass vaccination site for first responders. And, next week the vaccine will be offered to people in congregate settings, like senior housing, shelters and prisons.

“What we really anticipate seeing is less and less vaccine on the shelves as more and more vaccine clinics come online, and are basically just vaccinating as quickly as their supply comes in,” Biddinger says.

But, he cautions so much of what the state can plan to do is tied up by the feds.

“We just need so much more visibility on how many doses are there, how many doses are coming, so that we can scale appropriately.”

To that point, this week the Trump administration released all available doses nationwide to speed up the process.

Massachusetts, Biddinger says, got about 4,000 additional doses. He says Massachusetts typically gets around 80,000 doses a week, so it saw a roughly 5% increase.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges,” Biddinger said. “You know, it’s so hard to plan to administer vaccine, if you don’t know, the week prior how much vaccine you’re going to get, if you can’t tell hospitals, clinics, health departments, what they’re going to get.”

The feds are also now encouraging states to give the vaccine to more people, including everyone 65 and older.

“What the states have not heard is formal direction yet on the implementation of that. So, we’re trying to figure out what that recommendation or what that announcement means.”

And things will likely change again when a new administration takes over in less than a week.

“It does make things very uncertain,” he added.

Biddinger says there’s a large mobilization effort to bring Massachusetts pharmacies on board to provide vaccine and he says there are more than 75 local health departments readying clinics.

He knows the general public is eager for more details and a timeline. He says when they get them, they will be posted online and distributed to providers. He says the state should be able to offer more guidance in 2-3 weeks.

Additional links:

25 Investigates: COVID-19 vaccine rollout showing progress

25 Investigates: How will the COVID-19 vaccine be distributed in Mass.?


- Complete local and national coronavirus coverage here

- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter | Watch Boston 25 NOW

- Download our free apps for your phone and smart TV