BOSTON – Starting March 1, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will “no longer provide first dose vaccines for individual municipal clinics, except for the twenty disproportionately impacted communities and established and approved Regional Collaboratives,” announced Massachusetts Health Secretary MaryLou Sudders in an email to local health directors across the state.
“Municipalities will receive second doses to ensure that all residents have been fully vaccinated by individual local board of health clinics,” said Sudders in her February 17 email.
“As the Commonwealth moves forward and as a million residents become eligible, the Administration must streamline the vaccine distribution process in anticipation of this challenge and within the confines of limited vaccine supply provided by the federal government. The Commonwealth has been receiving approximately 110,000 new first doses each week,” wrote Sudders to health directors across the Commonwealth.
“High-capacity throughput vaccination, available across the Commonwealth, is important to ensuring vaccines do not sit idle. To avoid confusion and increase access, vaccination locations must be available to all residents and not narrowly restricted by geography. Currently, almost 95% of our population lives within a 45-minute drive of a mass vaccination site or within 30 minutes of a regional site. This is in addition to the growing number of pharmacies and other retail locations administering doses, currently numbered at 105,” the Massachusetts Health Secretary wrote.
“In addition to increasing efficiency in administering the vaccine, the Commonwealth must ensure that the program is equitable and meets the needs of communities that have been most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Utilizing the social vulnerability index as a starting
point, the Department of Public Health has identified 20 municipalities that have had the greatest COVID burden and have the greatest percentage of non- white residents. These municipalities are: Boston; Brockton; Chelsea; Everett; Fall River; Fitchburg; Framingham; Haverhill; Holyoke; Lawrence; Leominster; Lowell; Lynn; Malden; Methuen; New Bedford; Randolph; Revere; Springfield; and Worcester,” wrote Sudders.
“Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel has reached out to these municipal leaders to assist with increasing awareness, to address vaccine hesitancy and to mitigate barriers to vaccine access. These municipalities will continue to distribute vaccine at the local level, are prioritized for the retail pharmacy program, and are served by community health centers, hospitals and other health care providers administering vaccine in the community,” wrote Sudders in a February 17 letter.
“The Commonwealth is fortunate that so many local public health officials want to help vaccinate their residents. Given the constraints on vaccine supply, the Administration is asking our local officials to focus efforts around outreach to vulnerable, hard to reach populations, including homebound seniors, individuals who participate in ‘meals on wheels’ and others who are eligible but not able to travel to a vaccine site. Local officials are more adept at identifying and meeting these high need populations and can arrange for them to be vaccinated either by the local board of health, connect them to community providers or refer to the State’s vaccination program for homebound individuals, which will launch in the coming weeks,” wrote Sudders.
“Municipalities may propose regional collaborations that meet specific geographic needs identified by the state and must meet specific requirements,” wrote Sudders.
• Have the capacity to vaccinate minimally 750 individuals per day, 5 days per week;
• Serve unmet need geographically, as identified by the Department of Public Health;
• Meet an administration rate threshold of 85% and report doses within 24 hours;
• Serve all residents of the Commonwealth; collaborations may focus outreach efforts towards those who live or work in the area but must be open to all Massachusetts residents; and
• Provide public links for vaccine appointments on Mass.gov/COVIDVaccine.
Other important ways for municipalities to engage in the Commonwealth’s vaccine program, wrote Sudders, include:
• Promote vaccine acceptance by establishing COVID ambassador programs, providing tele-townhalls or developing messaging campaigns in multiple languages;
• Encourage and assist residents to utilize mass vaccination sites and retail pharmacies for vaccination;
• Plan, develop or coordinate vaccine programs for residents living in public and private low income and affordable senior housing; or
• Identify, plan and organize vaccination of homebound residents who are unable to access any other vaccination program as they become eligible.