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State to curtail vaccine distribution to hospitals

Massachusetts is severely limiting the number of coronavirus vaccine doses sent to hospitals across the state.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/file

Massachusetts is severely limiting the number of coronavirus vaccine doses sent to hospitals across the state, a health care trade group said Thursday, after state officials warned last month that they would curtail supplies to facilities that weren’t using the doses quickly enough.

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association sent a message to its members advising them not to schedule any appointments for the first dose of the vaccine until further notice — but also not to cancel any appointments already scheduled.

A state spokeswoman said Thursday night that people who already have appointments won’t be affected by the change.

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“All patients and hospital staff with existing appointments will get their first and second shots, and the administration is hopeful more vaccines will arrive soon for more providers, including hospital systems,” a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center said in a statement.

The spokeswoman said the amount of vaccine delivered to the state by the federal government has been the same for several weeks, and the state will be sending more doses to heavily trafficked locations, including “mass vaccination sites, retail pharmacy sites, and community health centers until more vaccines are made available.”

Beth Israel Lahey Health said in an e-mail to patients Thursday evening that state officials told the health care network that “due to supply constraints, it will be greatly reducing the supply of vaccines to hospitals and health systems for at least the next few weeks in order to consolidate vaccine doses for use at state-run vaccination clinics.”

The network said it could not schedule any new appointments.

Dr. Thomas Sequist, chief patient experience and equity officer for Mass General Brigham, the largest health network in Massachusetts, said the reduction will force the network to scale back its vaccination effort, including programs in hard-hit communities such as Chelsea, Revere, and Lynn.

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Sequist said the purpose of the change was unclear because state officials “didn’t tell us any reallocation formulas or any direction that the vaccine doses were headed.”

Mass General Brigham, formerly known as Partners HealthCare, said in a Thursday afternoon e-mail to employees that it would suspend scheduling of first-dose appointments for patients and employees.

“We have been assured by the state that we will receive enough vaccine to fulfill all first and second dose appointments that are already scheduled,” the network said in the e-mail. “As a result, we will administer vaccine to ALL employees and patients who are currently scheduled to receive their first or second dose, ensuring we follow clinical guidance and best practice for completing vaccination.”

State officials said late last month that they had temporarily halted vaccine shipments earmarked for hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term-care sites because so many were going unused.

Officials said that more than half of the doses shipped for front-line health workers, congregate care residents and staff, and first responders hadn’t yet been used. They said many in those groups, at hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and other sites, had refused shots.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said then that officials were monitoring allocations and inventory at hospitals and long-term-care sites and redirecting vaccine shipments accordingly.

Sudders said the state did not send vaccine doses to hospital systems for several days in late January because the systems were not using all their inventory within the 10-day timeline required by the state.

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“They need to utilize what they have in hand,” she said. “And if we must, we will redistribute these fragile vaccines to other providers.”

Sequist said that at Mass General Brigham facilities, “We never had an issue with having doses that were going unused and that weren’t allocated.”

“We had a very high utilization rate of all of our vaccine supply,” he said.

Robert Weisman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.