As Massachusetts prepared to go on the offensive with a vaccination battle against the coronavirus, the state reported the virus’s toll continued to soar in rising numbers of new cases and deaths.
The latest figures — which included 4,968 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Saturday, along with 47 new confirmed deaths — come just as state and health care officials anticipate the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Massachusetts as early as Monday or Tuesday.
The first phase of the vaccination effort, aimed at protecting health care workers from the infection, stands to be a historic effort in the war against the coronavirus, which has killed at least 11,057 state residents and infected 274,897 people since the spring.
The Department of Public Health also reported 67,754 people were estimated to have active cases of the deadly virus, while 1,670 confirmed coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of Saturday.
Dr. David Hamer, a physician at Boston Medical Center and a Boston University epidemiologist, said there has been “fantastic progress” in the development of a vaccine for a pathogen that was identified only 12 months ago. But he cited concern about worldwide competition for COVID-19 vaccines, which could have an impact on the logistics of deploying them fast enough to meet the need in Massachusetts.
Along with health care workers, he said, he is concerned about the safety of other essential workers — including police, EMTs, bus drivers, and store employees — and it is important to to immunize those people against the disease.
“All those people who have regular, frequent contacts with a large number of people, even if brief — I think it would be nice to be able to protect that population,” Hamer said.
Governor Charlie Baker, who announced the state’s vaccination plans Wednesday, has said most of the state’s population will have to wait until the spring to receive a vaccination.
Once vaccinations are underway, that effort will help the state begin to roll back the restrictions on businesses and daily life imposed to protect people’s health.
“It’s going to take time to get fairly widespread coverage and availability of the vaccines,” Hamer said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.