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First vaccines in Massachusetts rolling out

Health care workers prioritized in first phase of vaccinations

Jordan Frias
First vaccines in Massachusetts rolling out
Rev. Liz Walker shares information during a Baker administration press conference. PHOTO: JOSHUA QUARLES, GOVERNOR’S PRESS OFFICE

Prior to the first approved coronavirus vaccine arriving to Boston Medical Center on Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker laid out a plan on who would be prioritized for inoculation in the months ahead.

Last week at the State House, Baker said the first 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Cambridge-based Moderna would go to health care workers, those in long-term care facilities, first responders and those living in congregate settings, such as shelters and prisons.

Over the weekend, Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine was approved by both the FDA and CDC for emergency use authorization after independent committees recommended the authorization. Moderna is seeking approval, which is expected to be granted later this week.

During his announcement, Baker outlined the three phases for when people can expect to have access to these vaccines. He emphasized that the process would ensure “a safe, equitable and efficient distribution.”

Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, a member of the governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, also spoke in support of the vaccine distribution plan that she was a part of.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two injections three or four weeks apart from one another in order to provide immunity.

Last month, Walker hosted a Zoom discussion with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci so he could address concerns that community members may have around taking a vaccine.

When asked how people responded to the discussion with Fauci, Walker said half thought they would consider taking a vaccine after listening to him speak, while the other half was “still very skeptical.”

A recent survey conducted by the MassINC Polling Group found that 71% of Massachusetts residents were either “very” or “somewhat likely” to take a vaccine for the virus. A high level of Black and Latino groups are still hesitant.

Baker stressed that people should trust that the state would only distribute a vaccine if it were deemed safe, speaking directly to communities most impacted by the virus.

“Vaccines go through more testing than any other pharmaceutical, including extensive testing and clinical trials,” Baker said. “Again, vaccines will be safe, and no one would distribute them if they weren’t.”

Baker said communities of color and at-risk populations “are prioritized in distribution timelines.”

“[O]ur administration will be focusing intently on reaching these individuals and making clear that the vaccine is safe and effective,” Baker said, adding that there will be multilingual community-oriented outreach during distribution.

Walker said the group behind the distribution timeline, composed of medical, infectious disease and public health experts, is “incredibly committed to getting [distribution] right and being fair.”

She spoke further about phase 2 of the distribution plan, expected to begin during the months of February and March, as the time when “communities that have experienced a disproportionate COVID-19 burden” could be vaccinated.

Phase 1 of the distribution plan began on Monday when vaccines were shipped to Massachusetts. The state placed an order for 60,000 vaccines on Dec. 4

As for phase 2, Walker said groups identified in the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index would be prioritized. The index takes into account social economic status, household composition, minority status, language, housing and transportation, according to Walker.

Phase 3, which is expected to start sometime between April and June, would include the general population.

Those receiving a vaccine will not be charged, and patients will not incur out-of-pocket costs or co-payments from their insurance company, Baker said.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said work will be done to “reach communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19 and have historical distrust in the health care system.”

Walker also acknowledged that “trust cannot be earned in one news conference or in one statement.”

Dr. Paul Biddinger, chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group and director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham, said the goal is to “vaccinate every medically eligible person” in the Commonwealth.

“We definitely have to get to a majority of the population who has effective immunity before we can get the prevalence of the disease down low enough that we can get back much closer to normal,” Biddinger said.

 

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