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Mass. making progress on vaccinations, but lack of supply ‘tremendously anxiety-provoking,’ Baker says

Governor Charlie Baker held a State House press conference on Feb. 17 to announce that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility was expanding to include people age 65 and older.
Governor Charlie Baker held a State House press conference on Feb. 17 to announce that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility was expanding to include people age 65 and older.Sam Doran/Pool

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that some 1.4 million Massachusetts residents have received their first dose of the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine as the state continues to ramp up its efforts to inoculate as many people as possible against the deadly contagion.

Baker, a Republican, provided the tally during an afternoon State House briefing on school reopenings amid the pandemic.

Massachusetts, he said, is “clearly making significant progress statewide as we continue to vaccinate eligible priority groups in Phases 1 and 2. But we also continue to stand up more mass vaccination sites across the Commonwealth,” including the location that opened Monday at the Natick Mall.

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“We continue to build upon and improve upon our vaccine distribution program, and encourage everyone to continue visiting mass.gov/covidvaccine to learn more,” Baker said.

He added that the vaccine drive will continue to ramp up in the coming weeks.

“And we’re all hoping and anticipating that [the] J&J [vaccine] will get approved and Pfizer and Moderna will increase their production, and we’ll have a lot more supply to distribute here in the Commonwealth. We’ve already distributed over a million doses to begin with, with many more to come in the weeks ahead.”

Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are also dropping, Baker said.

“The percent of positive COVID cases over seven days and hospitalization rates have been falling now for almost a month,” he said. “And our Commonwealth and our country are making progress and getting back to what I think of as the next normal.”

He said “we’re number one in the country” on administering “first doses per capita among our peer states that have more than 5 million people. That’s 24 states that are basically our size or bigger, and we’ve been a top 10 player for the past two or three weeks.”

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In addition, the governor said officials are continuing to make upgrades to the state vaccine appointment website, which failed spectacularly on Thursday when roughly 1 million people became newly eligible to book slots.

“People are working on developing a whole series of user interface improvements, and those will be rolled out over the course of the next couple of weeks,” Baker said. “And I would say that this is something that’s a big focus, along with making sure that the system has the capacity to deal with the potential of several million people being on it at exactly the same time. ... There’s constantly updates that are being made to the website, and we’ll certainly make sure that you guys know about them. And we’ll make sure the public knows about them, as they become available.”

He reiterated a point he’s made previously, about the lack of vaccine supply from the federal government hindering the rollout at the state level.

“I think, in many respects, the lack of supply that’s attached to the issue associated with vaccines is a tremendously anxiety-provoking issue,” Baker said. “When you get 450,000 requests for new first-dose vaccines each week, and you have 130,000 first-dose vaccines that are available, that creates anxiety. And when you have a million people who are eligible to get a vaccine, and you only get 130,000 first doses a week, that creates anxiety.”

Residents, Baker said, must remain patient.

“Everybody’s going to get vaccinated,” he said. “But everybody can’t get vaccinated at once because we don’t have enough supply. And this isn’t just a Massachusetts issue, this is true in every state in the country. I do believe, not to come back to the J&J piece again, but J&J, if it gets approved, is a single dose. That’s a really big deal in the context of how this process works. It doesn’t require some of the deep freeze issues with respect to storing and thawing and all the rest that Moderna and Pfizer require.”

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And, Baker said, Pfizer on Tuesday indicated it would double its monthly production of the vaccine in March.

“That’s a really big deal with respect to dealing with some of the anxiety that people have about their ability to access an appointment, or some of the folks that we have who want to do more, to be able to do more,” Baker said.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.