Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that state officials have received “disturbing” reports of people trying to game the new system that allows younger companions of people aged 75 and older to book slots to get vaccinated if they bring their older charges to COVID-19 vaccination appointments.
Baker provided the information during a briefing following a tour of the vaccination site at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
“We have heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already, with some people posting online trying to get a senior to bring them to a vaccination site or, in some cases, asking to be paid to drive somebody to one,” Baker said.
His comments came one day after state officials announced they were relaxing vaccine eligibility rules to let younger people who accompany older residents to mass vaccination sites get shots themselves.
The Republican governor stressed that seniors should only accept a ride to a vaccination site from someone they know.
“If you’re 75 years or older, and you need assistance going through the vaccination process, you should only reach out to somebody that you know or trust to bring you as your companion, whether that’s a child, a companion, a spouse, a neighbor or a caregiver,” Baker said. “Don’t take calls or offers from people you don’t know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone. If you’re contacted by somebody soliciting to take you to a site, please report it to the authorities.”
Boston City Councilor Andrea J. Campbell, who is running for mayor, said Thursday afternoon that the state should rescind or revise the companion policy because “it took less than 24 hours ... to be abused.”
“It’s the wrong approach when those who need it most — seniors, essential workers, teachers, Black and brown residents in communities where infection rates are highest — are still waiting for their chance to be vaccinated,” Campbell said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“We know the health disparities — Black people, especially Black men, often don’t make it to 75,” she continued. “The State should rescind this policy or limit it to 65+ MA residents accompanying, and immediately open up appointments to these other individuals.”
Asked during the afternoon news conference about the long lines that emerged Wednesday afternoon at the mass vaccination site at the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers, Baker stressed that only people with appointments should be going to the sites.
“We don’t believe that there should be sort a of cattle call at the end of the day” to get vaccines, Baker said. “People need to manage their dosing and manage their vaccine and we expect all the sites to do that going forward.”
He said the vaccine situation should improve if and when the federal government’s able to provide more doses to states.
“We expect our providers to operate on the terms and the rules that we put in place, and the most important one I want people to get today is, if you don’t have an appointment, you won’t get a vaccine,” Baker said, adding that he understands “people are anxious, but what everybody needs to understand here is there will be appointments, we’re growing our capacity. If we get more from the feds, which we anticipate and hope that we will at some point in the not-too-distant future, more people will get vaccinated as well. But the big issue is, you need to have an appointment to get vaccinated.”
Separately, Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, announced the company was donating $1 million to help cover transportation costs for people in underserved communities who need rides to community health centers to get their vaccine.
And Michael Curry, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, said such centers are ready to do their part in the vaccination effort.
“Just like ... in the early days of testing, community health centers are building up their capacity to deliver these life saving vaccines,” Curry said.
He said the pandemic has hit communities of color hardest.
“We all know that COVID-19 hasn’t affected everyone equally,” Curry said. “The hardest hit places in Massachusetts are places where our Black, brown, immigrant, and low-income residents live. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that these communities continue to bear the physical, emotional, and financial brunt of this pandemic.” He said “at the state’s 52 community health centers, we see that suffering up close. Every day.”
In the early days of the pandemic, Curry continued, community health centers worked to stand up testing sites and “threw themselves” into contact tracing.
“At the same time, we continue to meet our patients’ healthcare needs, like we always do,” Curry said. “That means providing high-quality care while also acknowledging the realities of our patients’ lives. Speaking their languages. And understanding their cultural beliefs and systems, including their justifiable mistrust in our medical and government institutions. But importantly, our patients trust us. And it is that trust, joined with our experience and expertise that makes us uniquely qualified to get these vaccines to the people who need it most.”
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report. Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed.