Governor Charlie Baker on Saturday announced expanded hours for a new COVID-19 call center to help people schedule vaccine appointments. The governor also warned people again not to exploit a companion program meant to encourage more residents 75 and older to receive vaccine shots.
Baker, speaking at a mass vaccination site in Springfield’s Eastfield Mall, repeated his criticisms over limited supplies of vaccine available to Massachusetts, which has been an obstacle for the state’s ongoing effort to vaccinate millions of Massachusetts residents.
“The frustration that people have with the fact that they have capacity to distribute [vaccine], but don’t have [enough[ vaccine, is something happening here in the Commonwealth and across the country,” Baker said. “And it is very much my hope that, at some point, we really do have more supply than we have capacity. That’s not now.”
The Department of Public Health reported late Saturday afternoon that 48,767 new vaccine doses had been administered in Massachusetts, bringing the statewide total to 1,082,785.
The state also reported 65new deaths due to COVID-19, along with 1,949 new cases. The latest figures brought the state’s death toll to 15,116, and its number of total infections to 527,435.
The state’s phased vaccination plan, which began with health workers before expanding to other groups, such as first responders, currently allows people 75 and older to receive vaccine shots. Following an influx of complaints about a state website intended to allow people to schedule vaccination appointments, Baker launched the call center to help eligible people without computer access.
The call center, which began Feb. 5, will now be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Baker said. Previously, the center was open weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
He also continued to defend a new policy, launched Thursday, that allows younger companions of people age 75 and older to receive vaccine doses at a mass vaccination center.
That process was criticized by a group of lawmakers last week because they said it risks giving white, healthy people greater access to doses over people of color and those with life-threatening conditions.
Some younger people, hoping to get a shot sooner, have tried using online postings and phone calls to entice older residents eligible for the vaccine with offers of cash or transportation to vaccine appointments.
People who are 75 and older should only enlist a trusted person like a spouse or adult child as a companion. Baker urged people to report to authorities any offers from those seeking vaccination shots.
“We have heard very disturbing reports in some cases of people trying to take advantage of this program by offering to pay seniors, so they can take them to appointments,” Baker said Sunday. “That, obviously, is unacceptable, and completely inconsistent with what we’re trying to do here.”
Baker was criticized Friday by hospital officials across Massachusetts for halting new deliveries of vaccine doses to hospitals and primary care offices in order to support the state’s network of mass vaccination centers.
He highlighted the role of hospitals in the vaccine rollout while reiterating the supply challenges.
In Massachusetts, hospitals have been getting about 40 percent of all vaccines distributed, Baker said. This coming week, hospitals, and health care systems are going to get 55 percent of all the vaccine that is available next week, he said.
“They are major players, and continue to be major players, in distributing vaccine,” Baker said. “We would love to be able to give everybody all the vaccine that they ask for... we have about four-and-a-half times as many requests as we actually have vaccine that’s available.”
The federal vaccine supply is limited, Baker said, with the state currently getting about 103,000 to 106,000 doses a week, which is up “very modestly” from when the program began in December. But requests for vaccinations outstrips the number of doses available, according to Baker.
Baker said states also face difficulties ordering supplies weeks in advance, which impacts planning efforts. Massachusetts has only been able to order vaccines weekly so far, he said.
“It would be terrific [if] we get to the point where we could start making decisions about ordering and distributing vaccines two, three weeks down the road,” Baker said. “That would obviously make it a lot easier for everybody... to plan accordingly as well.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.