Thousands of open slots at big vaccination sites

First signs of a slowdown?

BOSTON — Back in February, the Doubletree Hotel on Ferncroft Road was swamped with those seeking COVID-19 vaccinations. It was even busy a few weeks ago, said Geoffrey Tocco of Hopkinton, who came with his dad, Chris, to get his second shot.

“Definitely a lot busier the first time; a lot more people here,” Tocco said. “Cops directing traffic, and it was a little more hectic. Today it was a lot more smooth and not as many people.”

“Today we got right in, literally walked right to the table,” Chris Tocco said. “Didn’t have to sit and wait in place for a time or anything like that. Waited 20 minutes after his vaccine and here we are on the way home.”

Geoffrey Tocco said he expected it would be less crowded for shot number two, but that’s not necessarily what the state was anticipating when it opened up vaccination to anyone 16 and older. And yet, as of Wednesday morning, several mega-sites had thousands of open appointments: more than 13,000 in Danvers, more than 10,000 at the Natick Mall, and around 8,000 at Gillette Stadium.

By late afternoon, those numbers had shrunk somewhat. But Danvers still had more than 9,000 open appointments at 5 p.m. and Natick more than 7,000. And it appeared very few appointments were booked at Gillette as the numbers there barely changed.

“It’s great news that it’s so easy to get a vaccine today, but I do think it’s really important for everyone to get it,” said Dr. Richard Ellison, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. “With so many appointments available, I think there are a lot of people who are not jumping in and taking the chance to get it right now.”

Ellison said that could pose a problem as the state tries to drive infections down as low as possible.

“Our case rate has dropped, but we’re still at 900-plus cases per day in Massachusetts,” Ellison said. “That means that several people got infected yesterday.”

Statistically, that also means a small number of them will be hospitalized and will die, he added. And the more cases there are, the more likely a variant could pop up that might prove challenging for the current vaccines.

“The risk of having a variant is dependent on how many people have infection, how much virus is growing,” Ellison said. “And if you get the right variant showing up, it can spread very rapidly.”

The state Department of Public Health did not respond to questions about the large number of unbooked appointments. And while there has always been concern about hesitancy, could something else be going on? Perhaps a feeling that some kind of immediate herd immunity exists?

Entela Prifti of Wakefield thinks so.

“You see more people that say, like, you go ahead you do it, but I’m not gonna do it because I see more people getting vaccinated,” she said. “Everyone needs to get a vaccine to protect themself, to protect the community, to protect their family, so please get vaccinated as I did today.”

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