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Top Massachusetts official warns that COVID-19 vaccine supply may be limited through February

Memo to local officials says federal government not providing enough doses

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines.
Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines.Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

A top state public health official warned Massachusetts cities and towns Sunday night that their shipments of COVID-19 vaccine doses will be “capped going forward through February” because the federal government is not making enough doses available.

The Sunday night email from Jana Ferguson, assistant commissioner of Public Health, comes as communities are gearing up to vaccinate a growing number of people starting in February. But Ferguson directed local officials to limit orders of the COVID-19 vaccine amid a shortage of allocations from the federal government.

“Unfortunately, given the lack of vaccine allocated by the federal government to MA at this time, vaccine orders need to be capped going forward through February and until more vaccines are available,” wrote Ferguson.

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According to the email advisory, each week, municipal health departments will be able to indicate if they need “the box of 100 Moderna doses or if you do not need it. You should plan your clinics to use the vaccine within 10 days, making sure to accurately report vaccine administration numbers to MIIS. I know this isn’t necessarily what you are hoping for, but it provides you with a consistent understanding of what you can plan around. When more vaccine becomes available, the limits may be reconsidered. Thank you for understanding.”

Sigalle Reiss, president of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association and Norwood’s health director, said she received a letter from the state health department Monday morning, abruptly capping her town’s weekly allotment to 100 doses of vaccine a week.

She said she has spoken to health directors in at least six other communities in her Metro West area who received similar notices.

She said her town, alone, was expected up to 200 doses a week, and could easily administer as many as 300 weekly, given all of the private health practices in town whose workers need the shots, including dentists offices and chiropractice care centers.

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“We have great access to our residents and administering vaccines is a great community resource to vaccinate on the local level,” Reiss said. “Our senior center is going to set up a table to help seniors register and also at our senior housing authority. It takes some hand holding sometimes, and we are right in the community.”

State health secretary Marylou Sudders said in a State House press briefing Monday that orders for vaccine from providers across the state, and not just from local health departments, were far exceeding supply. That, combined with limited doses continuing to come from the federal government, has prompted Massachusetts to scrutinize whether each site was using all of the doses supplied.

“In all cases, we are now seeing what you have in hand, what’s scheduled, and then if we can, [the state gives] you what ever the [difference] is,” Sudders said.

But local health departments say they are using up their supply.

Claude Jacob, Cambridge’s chief public health officer, said his city ordered 1,000 doses earlier this month to vaccinate first responders and burned through all of them. The city ordered 500 last week for vaccinations in congregate care settings and shelters and was finishing up this week. They were poised to order 500 more to continue vaccinating other eligible residents in the state’s Phase one tier when the letter arrived last night capping their future amounts.

The letter indicated the cap applied to people scheduled for new first doses, but not for second doses of the Moderna vaccine.

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“It does say our second doses will be sent to us soon, but it doesn’t give us a date when we should expect them,” Jacob said. “It’s a challenge.”

Jacob said local health departments need help from the state with more clear messaging about when each new phase of residents can realistically expect to be vaccinated.

“Teachers, food service workers, elderly people are chomping at the bit expecting they are going to be vaccinated as early as Feb. 1,” he said. “And I don’t see that happening.”






Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.