Cities, towns upset state pulled vaccine rug out from under them

AMESBURY, Mass. — The state said it would stop giving vaccine doses to local municipalities starting the week of March 1st. Instead, the state will be placing a greater emphasis on mass vaccination sites and regionalized clinics.

However, many communities say they have been denied the last couple of weeks doses they thought they were going to get.

“That first group of First Responders and healthcare workers got their first dose,” said Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove. “We were moving into their second dose and preparing to move into the 75-plus age group. We applied every week. We had been applying every week for the 100 doses we were told that we could get and continually being denied.”

Gove says everything is in place to distribute the vaccine, except the vaccine.

“I got a call yesterday from a woman who has an 89-year-old mother who’s homebound and can’t get an appointment anywhere but she can’t move into her nursing home until she has a vaccine,” said Gove. “She said only call me back when you have good news.”

The state says since 95% of people live within a 45-minute drive of a mass vaccination site or 30 minutes of a regional site, that’s where its priorities will go. Meaning unless you are one of the 20 communities designated to ensure equity, your doses are just about out.

“It’s disappointing,” said West Newbury Fire Chief Michael Dwyer. “I mean, it’s going to give us the opportunity to have a clinic tomorrow night, but we don’t know if that’s going to get shut down for anything after that.”

This means communities like West Newbury won’t be needing the site’s workers have spent months setting up.

“We had two locations,” said Dwyer. “The Page School was our first location. We were able to do about 500 vaccines. We have another location, which is our Middle School that we were looking at anywhere from 850 to a thousand vaccines a day.”

The work hasn’t just been setting up sites but helping the seniors get by day-to-day. Now they fear letting those seniors down right when they’re needed the most.

“We have been the ones responsible for wellness checks calling them every week to say hello and make them feel safe and comfortable,” said Gove. “We have been delivering their groceries, so they want to see us and we want to be in touch with them and establish that that location for them as close by as we can. We want to do it in our neighborhoods, and if that’s just not going to be possible. We just need to be clear about it.”

“We realize that residents are anxious to begin the process of receiving their vaccination, especially if they belong to one of the groups eligible under the current Phase, but our ability to administer the vaccine is contingent upon receiving doses from the state,” Cohasset Health Director Pamela Fahey said. “While we have been aggressively pursuing vaccine orders since they became available, our most recent request for vaccine doses was denied. This was the case in many neighboring communities as well. We want to ensure our residents that the Town of Cohasset will continue to pursue vaccines as much as possible and we will host additional clinics in the future once additional doses are received. The state has assured the Town that they will deliver second shot doses so scheduled clinics will occur as planned.”

The cities and towns say they are upset because the communication has not been clear. Leaders say the sites they were setting up, weekly applications they were filling out to no avail, were all work done under the direction of the state.

Whitman is highly encouraging residents to visit a nearby mass vaccination site to receive the vaccine, such as the sites located at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and Fenway Park in Boston. This includes individuals who have received the first dose of the vaccine and are awaiting the second.

“We were extremely disappointed to have been denied vaccine doses from the state for the second consecutive week, and at this time have been given no indication when additional doses will be made available to the Town,” Whitman Fire Chief Tim Grenno said. “This is especially unfortunate for those who have already received one dose of the vaccine and were about to receive their second dose, as well as those who were scheduled to receive their first dose this week. The good news is that the nearby site at Gillette Stadium is very well run and the workers are helpful. There are escalators and elevators for people to use and the process of receiving the vaccination is quick and efficient.”

To book an appointment at a mass vaccination site visit vaxfinder.mass.gov or call 2-1-1. Appointments are required to receive the vaccine at these locations. For those unable to make it to a site themselves, a family member or caregiver can accompany someone receiving the vaccine and they are eligible to receive it as well (although both would need an appointment).

The Town of Whitman is also exploring the option of running a bus to the Gillette Stadium site for eligible seniors over the age of 75 who do not have any other means of transportation to and from state clinics. The Town is currently gauging interest in such a service, and anyone interested is asked to call the Town at 781-618-9778 and leave their name and number. A town representative will call back if or when the bus transportation has been finalized.


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