State expanding vaccine eligibility to residents 65+, people with 2 or more health conditions

State expanding vaccine eligibility to residents 65+, people with 2 or more health conditions

BOSTON — The state is expanding eligibility for who can get the coronavirus vaccine Wednesday to people over 65 and those with two or more qualifying health conditions. The state said it is now ranked ninth in the country for dose administration per capita. More than half of the 75-and-over population in Massachusetts now has at least one shot, so the state is opening to the next groups.

The new groups eligible to schedule shots on Feb. 18 include Massachusetts residents age 65 and older, individuals 16 or older with two or more qualifying health conditions, and residents and staff of public and private low income and affordable senior housing. The state says nearly 1 million people will become eligible

Appointments can be scheduled through the state’s vaccine site, and 75,000 new appointments for the state’s five mass vaccination sites are expected to go online Thursday morning. People without internet access can call 2-1-1 for help booking.

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Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker made the announcement at a State House briefing Wednesday.

“Today we are pleased to announce that residents 65 and older and residents with two or more certain medical conditions will be eligible,” Lt. Gov. Polito said.

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The health conditions the state specifies include cancer, heart conditions along with the addition of moderate to severe asthma.

The state is now pivoting to the strategy of using the high-volume sites as they begin vaccinating more of the general population.

“The big message we got from the public was, ‘vaccinate, vaccinate,’ and there is no question the fastest way to do this is with high-volume sites,” Gov. Baker said.

The state notified local health officials in a letter that effective March 1, it will no longer send first doses to municipal vaccine clinics except for the 20 clinics the Department of Public Health announced it would target as part of an initiative announced Tuesday.

Cities and towns will still receive second doses to fully vaccinate those who have already gotten their first shot, the letter said. The state said this is an effort to streamline the effort to vaccinate the 1 million newly eligible people.

About 251,000 residents 75 and older have already gotten their first dose, according to the state, which is about 51% of that age group’s statewide population.

Health & Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the state is also seeing an increase in vaccine supply this coming week.

“We finally received a very modest increase of our supply by 29,000 first doses, so for next week we will have 139,000 first doses,” Secretary Sudders said.

The Baker administration has been under fire for the rollout. Congressional leaders and local groups have even written letters asking the governor to revamp the appointment process. Gov. Baker had his own criticism of them Wednesday.

“I would love to have a congressional delegation urge the Biden administration to give states three or four weeks of solid, committed visibility into what is coming because, if we can do that, we could then say to people, ‘it’s not just next week that is available, it is the next three weeks or the next four weeks,’” Gov. Baker said.

The companion program that rolled out for the 75-and-over group will stay in place but still only be available to people 75 and over. The 65-and-over group will not have that plus-one eligibility.

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