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Baker says 70,000 staff members at Mass. hospitals have received COVID-19 vaccine

Intensive care unit Nurse Belza Betancur received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from nurse Ellen O'Connor at Massachusetts General Hospital on Dec. 16.
Intensive care unit Nurse Belza Betancur received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from nurse Ellen O'Connor at Massachusetts General Hospital on Dec. 16.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that more than 70,000 “COVID-facing” staff members at Massachusetts hospitals have received the COVID-19 vaccine amid the ongoing distribution program that’s slated to expand to first responders on Jan. 11.

Baker, speaking during a briefing at Baystate Medical Center, said the vaccination tally at the Springfield hospital stood at more than 6,000 as of Tuesday.

“Based on our data, we think 6,162 Baystate employees have received their first dose,” Baker said. “We’re obviously grateful to everybody who stepped up to get the vaccine. Those efforts that they’ve all put in over the past 10 months have been tremendous.”

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The governor added that “74 of the 76 hospitals here in Massachusetts have been vaccinating people who are part of their team. Over 70,000 COVID-facing staff have been vaccinated so far” statewide. “And again it can take a couple of days for [facility] reporters to report back to DPH, so we expect that that number is probably higher.”

Baker gives vaccines update
Governor Charlie Baker said on Tuesday that more than 70,000 “COVID-facing” staff members at Massachusetts hospitals have received the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

Baker provided an update on long-term care facility vaccinations as well, which he said started last week at about 50 sites. There are about 130 scheduled sites this week, he said.

Regarding the first responder vaccinations starting Jan. 11, Baker said agencies that meet certain criteria can request for doses to be administered on-site, and that more information is available online at mass.gov/firstrespondervaccine.

He said first responders can also “schedule appointments at one of about 60 sites around Massachusetts. Appointments will be open and available later this week, and the list of sites is available at the same website.”

State officials, Baker continued, also are working to set up additional vaccination sites “that will be available to first responders and will become part of our general rollout here in Massachusetts, and we’ll have more detail on those locations soon.”

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He said the vaccine rollout is encouraging.

“We’re obviously excited that the vaccine process has begun here in Massachusetts,” he said. “And obviously making sure that we do all we can to deliver on the access based on the phases we’ve established as a key part of our plan. ... And the rolling forward process will continue as [the] vaccine is made available by the federal government through their distribution channels.”

But the governor reiterated his frequent call for continued vigilance.

“While the arrival of the vaccines and the rollout process is a critical part ... I can’t state how important it is for everybody to maintain their diligence and their vigilance as we move through this particular part of the process,” Baker said. “Even if you’re in informal settings, you really need to wear a mask.”

And he warned against “those informal gatherings where people historically got together and piled into a family room or a living room” to watch a sporting event.

The vaccination rollout in Massachusetts was temporarily slowed by a federal cutback in December allotments initially committed. But the state program has made up ground in the past week.

As of Sunday, Massachusetts providers and pharmacy contractors had vaccinated 116,071 front-line hospital workers and nursing home residents and staff with first doses of their two-dose regimens — using 40.4 percent of the 287,000 doses that had been shipped to the state by the end of the year, according to Baker.

That was up from the 31 percent rate Massachusetts had administered at the end of last week, the lowest rate of any New England state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State officials said the earlier rate was lower partly because some shipments didn’t arrive until Dec. 30, just before the New Year’s holiday. They also called vaccination reporting a “rolling” process, noting there can be a lag of two days or more in health providers logging injections into a state computer system.

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The national vaccination rollout has been far slower than Trump administration officials had promised, with only about 4 million Americans vaccinated compared to a year-end goal of 20 million. It also has encountered obstacles ranging from pockets of vaccine resistance nationwide to wasted or spoiled doses in Wisconsin to long lines in states like Florida that already have made injections available to high-risk members of the general public.

Massachusetts has been playing catch-up to a dozen states, including Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, where vaccinations at long-term care sites began a week earlier. Other states, like West Virginia, were able to accelerate injections at senior sites by setting up their own immunization programs rather than joining the federal effort to contract with CVS and Walgreens to run on-site clinics.

Baker elaborated on the state’s rollout plan during his briefing Tuesday.

“Remember, the rollout here for the vaccine initially was based on a commitment to, at least for the stuff that wasn’t being driven directly by the feds that was going to long-term care facilities, was to provide doses to health care workers, and especially those who are COVID-facing workers,” Baker said.

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He added that “you needed to have the infrastructure to take and store and then use the Pfizer vaccine which had very particular requirements with respect to sort of deep freeze, for lack of a better way to put it, and also the Moderna vaccine which required less deep freeze but also had some particular requirements with respect to storage.”

If, Baker said, “your ultimate objective at the beginning is to make sure you hit as many health care workers as you possibly can who are COVID-facing, you are going to end up distributing the vaccine based on where your hospitals and your health care workers are located. And that means places like this, in this part of Massachusetts, and in Suffolk County there are five hospitals ... and about half the people who are currently hospitalized for COVID in Massachusetts are hospitalized in Suffolk County.”

He stressed that the state is engaged in a phased distribution approach.

“We have what I would describe as a sequence,” Baker said. “But how soon we hit the various elements of those phases on that sequence is going to be a function of guidance we get from the feds with respect to the availability of the vaccine itself.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston also addressed the vaccine rollout plan during a later briefing Tuesday at Faneuil Hall.

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“Massachusetts created a distribution schedule prioritizing the highest risk residents,” Walsh said. “Last week, Boston EMTs and residents and staff at long-term care facilities started to get vaccinated. ... We have about 1,500 slots here in the city of Boston for first responders to get vaccinated next week in partnership with the Tufts Medical Center. We urge everyone to get vaccinated when your time comes. It’s safe, it’s free, its the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones and your city.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.