First responders in Massachusetts will begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 11, Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters Monday.
Baker, speaking during his regular State House press conference, said that starting Jan. 11, first responders including firefighters, police officers and EMTs will start receiving the shot, which “will protect them from COVID and the terrible illness” that often follows infection.
The governor said state officials have been working with first responder agencies to develop three options for the roughly 45,000 first responders statewide.
One option, Baker said, is to request that department members of an agency be vaccinated onsite at their jobs, provided the agencies meet “a list of criteria” for this option.
First responders can also set up appointments at one of 60 vaccination sites statewide, or they’ll soon be able to book appointment at additional vaccinate sites specifically for first responders, which should be operable in the coming weeks.
To date, Baker said, 287,000 first doses of the vaccine have been shipped to Massachusetts providers and 116,071 administered doses have been reported to the state, a figure that’s likely lower than the actual number, owing to reporting lags.
“With respect to first responders, obviously I think we all would agree that vaccine distribution can’t happen fast enough,” Baker said. “But the process also needs to be thoughtful and thorough. And while hospitals and long term care facilities continue to administer doses, we’ve been finalizing our plans for moving ahead with other groups.”
He said he was encouraged by the ongoing vaccination effort.
“All this just translates into brighter days ahead,” Baker said. “But we still have some tough days in front of us. We all have to continue to recognize and understand that it’s important for us to do the things that” combat the spread of the virus.
“We’ll continue to work with the feds and others to get vaccines administered as quickly and as safely as possible as we can here in Massachusetts,” Baker said.
Also Monday, he said, a new field hospital was slated to open in Lowell at the UMass-Lowell recreation center. That facility, he said, will compliment another field hospital set up at the DCU Center in Worcester.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also briefed reporters on the vaccination front.
She said a first responder department that wants to “engage in the direct vaccination of its staff can apply directly to the [state] Department of Public Health. ... The qualifications include, you must plan to vaccinate at least 200 individuals, because obviously we need to ensure that these vaccines are carefully protected.”
In addition, Sudders said, “you have to be registered with the Massachusetts immunization information system. You have to submit a completed unique Massachusetts COVID-19 vaccine program agreement. And you have to have a vaccination standing order by a physician in place, by a medical provider in place.”
Sudders said there’s 10 additional “other criteria around managing the vaccines, observing individuals post vaccination coming in and out, and the appointment process.”
She said the second option will be for first responders to use one of more than 60 sites across the state that are being set up for such workers. A website, www.mass.gov/firstrespondervaccine will list all the sites, Sudders said.
“The vaccination sites are appointment based and later this week first responders, as the governor said, will be able to visit the page to make an appointment at their convenience for vaccination at one of these locations,” Sudders said. “To be clear, don’t sign up yet. Appointments are not yet available.”
And later this month, Sudders said, first responders will also be able to visit separate regional vaccination sites. Details on the site locations are expected in the coming days.
Sudders also discussed recent adjustments officials have made to grant earlier access to the shot for people aged 75 and older.
“In response to the Dec. 22 revised COVID-19 vaccine recommendations of the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practice, otherwise known as ACIP, the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 advisory group convened on Dec. 23rd and 30th to discuss whether any changes to the previous recommendations were warranted,” Sudders said.
She said the advisory group “came to consensus on one single change to the current recommendations, taking into particular consideration ACIP’s highlighting of individuals aged 75 and older as being at particular risk of serious complications of COVID-19. Based on this recommendation of the COVID-19 advisory group, we are updating prioritization today so that individuals ages 75-plus are included in Phase 2, Group 1, along with individuals of all ages with two-plus comorbidities.”
The change, Sudders continued, “impacts approximately 170,000 individuals ages 75 and older who are not already included in this Phase 2, Group 1, based on their co-morbidity status.”