Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday that Massachusetts will start administering the COVID-19 vaccine Monday to the more than 94,000 people who live and work in congregate care settings such as prisons, shelters, and certain private special education schools.
Speaking at his regular State House briefing, the governor said the congregate care facilities can administer the vaccine in multiple ways. They can self-administer the vaccine on site if they meet certain criteria, work with an existing pharmacy or provider partnership to give the shot, or utilize mass vaccination sites such as the one opening Monday for first responders at Gillette Stadium.
Asked why a convicted murderer serving a life sentence should get the vaccine before others who aren’t behind bars, Baker said it’s a matter of public health.
“We made the decision early on that we were going to focus on what we consider to be populations that were most at-risk, and all the data and all the evidence makes it pretty clear that congregate care settings are at-risk communities, no matter how you define them,” Baker said.
He added that “there are 4,500 public employees who work in the state’s correctional system, who’re every bit as much at risk as the people who are inmates there.”
Asked why officials didn’t decide to just vaccinate the prison staff rather than the inmates, who can’t leave their facilities, Baker pointed to the fact that some people such as lawyers, relatives, and advocates enter the prisons to interact with those incarcerated.
“I don’t think you can draw a bright line that says you’re only going to vaccinate one half of the population and not the other,” Baker said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also announced that people who live and work in public and private low-income and affordable senior housing will be included at the beginning of Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, joining individuals with 2-plus comorbodities and individuals age 75-plus.
Sudders said the move was meant to “further protect vulnerable populations and ensure equitable distribution” for about 160,000 residents and staff.
The state is in the middle of Phase 1 of the vaccination program. It has estimated that Phase 2 could begin next month.
Amy Schectman, president and chief executive officer of the Brighton-based 2Life Communities, a group that provides senior housing, lauded the Baker administration for working to get the vaccine out to the people her organization serves.
“This is just so great,” Schectman said. “I just have to start with that. And I just must start by applauding this administration for prioritizing residents and staff of subsidized senior housing. ... This is just a really important milestone for older adults living in subsidized housing.”
She said the threats faced by her clientele amid the pandemic are daunting.
“They face a double threat from COVID by virtue of their age,” Schectman said, adding that they’re “more vulnerable to serious illness and death from the disease, and also more at risk for the dire consequences of social isolation.”
Schectman also related a poignant conversation she’d recently had with a 94-year-old resident.
She said the resident told her, “‘this could well be the last year of my life. I do not want to spend it as a prisoner in my apartment, deprived of the interactions that make life worthwhile.’”