COVID-19 vaccine rollout improving but 2 major issues remain

BOSTON — From Gillette to Fenway to Worcester State University, we are seeing more mass vaccination sites and more available appointments. 55,000 new appointments were made available Thursday. All of this is helping, but people on the COVID task force say there are still two major remaining issues: logistics and equity.

While Phase 2 of the rollout has begun, we are still seeing these long vaccination lines with little diversity.

“We are hoping that some of the mitigation strategies that are being put in place by the state and by the city with advocates leading the way can really address what we’re seeing as disturbing numbers of who gets the vaccine,” said Michael Curry, president and CEO at Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. “That’s not all about hesitancy because I want to stress that there’s a lot of black and brown folks and immigrants that are ready willing and able to take the vaccine if they can get an appointment.”

The other issue that remains in the first week of Phase 2, having a system that supports the entire rollout effort.

“I’ll be very blunt. We have seen some issues with the software in order to sign up,” said Sean O’Brien, head of Barnstable County’s Department of Health and Environment. “Probably one of the first ones we realized, it has been difficult for our sites to be located on the map with the state, on the state’s site.”

Josh Obeiter works with seniors in many different communities and says most of them have been able to sign up.

“We did have one issue where one of our staff an older adult herself went to a vaccination site where she had a scheduled appointment and they had run out of vaccines for the day,” said Josh Obeiter, Seniors Helping Seniors owner. “She was told to come back the following morning, but it was a far drive for her with over an hour away. So she decided to look elsewhere.”

It’s easy to want to compare our vaccine rollout to other states, but the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers says to be careful.

“Some started strong had great numbers in terms of how quickly they were vaccinating, but then we find out that they didn’t have any equity in their plan,” said Curry. “They just started mass vaccinating without an equity strategy. Other states started strong and then all of a sudden their systems crashed because they weren’t ready for the volume. So we need to be quick but also deliberate here in Massachusetts to make sure that we don’t end up at the end of this summer with mostly white folks that have been vaccinated.

Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers says some of the logistics issues are par for the course but will get better with time. As for equity, he says the goal is not about giving everyone equal access but giving increased access for communities that are most likely to be left behind.

Although the COVID case numbers right now seem to be getting better, Curry says if we don’t remain cautious and smart, especially with some talking about gathering for the Super Bowl, those decreasing numbers we are enjoying won’t last long.

“Those numbers will go up and down so be cautious in getting comfortable,” said Curry.

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