Communities, hospitals try to help after state vaccine signup falls short of expectations

BOSTON — A new call center to register senior citizens over 75 for vaccinations next week, but until then, communities and hospitals are picking up some of the slack answering questions, and providing technical support.

“The clear solution is for a statewide, easy, 1-800 number to call where you can have that be the point of entry to make those arrangements,” said Mike Festa, State Director, AARP Massachusetts.

Another concern for many seniors is transportation to and from vaccination appointments, says Festa.

“There may be opportunity to take advantage of some of the existing elder homecare network as well as councils on aging,” Festa added.

Governor Charlie Baker is preaching patience as the vaccine supply is still low and demand in the early days of appointment booking is extremely high.

That said, many are seeking the potentially life-saving vaccination as soon as they can get them.

“We are trying to help people,” said Teresa Arnold, director of the Salem Council on Aging.

Arnold’s office fielded 300 calls Thursday and another 100 Friday from seniors and are giving whatever technical help they can so residents can sign themselves up for an appointment.

In Quincy, the city is setting up phone sign-ups for vaccine appointments but it is not ready yet, according to a spokesperson.

At Tufts Medical Center, emails, letters, and texts are going to 75-year-old patients to book appointments at the hospital.

“If we don’t reach out to those patients and help them really facilitate the path to getting vaccinated, that we would slow down the procedure,” said Diana Richardson, Chief Operating Officer.

Tufts plans to administer 1,000 to 2,000 doses per day beginning on Monday, February 1st.

On February 8th, UMass Memorial Medical Center will begin vaccinating patients at the Mercantile Center on Front Street, said Dianna Caffaraena, Senior Vice President, Ambulatory at UMass Memorial.

Its patients can book appointments on the patient portal but calls and texts are also being sent to them.

A spokesperson for the Boston Public Health Commission said residents can call 311 to connect with the Age Strong Commission to answer questions or call the mayor’s Healthline which is taking calls about appointments.

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