As part of his announcement that teachers will be eligible to sign up for coronavirus vaccine appointments next week, Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday also addressed concerns about the state’s vaccine supply and questions about whether the state’s mask mandate will remain in place.
Here are some of the key items Baker discussed at his press conference in Gloucester on Wednesday:
Teacher vaccine availability
The most significant news was Baker’s announcement that K-12 and early educators, as well as other school staff members, will be eligible to begin signing up for vaccine appointments at the state’s 170 sites on March 11.
The policy change will put Massachusetts in line with a directive from President Biden on Tuesday for states to prioritize vaccinating teachers with the aim of delivering first doses to all educators by the end of March. About 400,000 educators and school staff members are expected to be newly eligible under this change.
CVS announced earlier Wednesday that educators are already eligible to sign up for vaccine appointments at their participating pharmacies, including those in Massachusetts.
Concerns about vaccine supply
Despite the seemingly positive news that more people will now be eligible for coronavirus vaccines, Baker warned on Wednesday that the state is still only receiving about 150,000 first doses from the federal government each week.
He warned that it will probably take about a month for everyone in the newly eligible group to receive their first vaccine appointment, unless the supply changes.
Putting the onus on the federal government to provide more vaccines, Baker said Massachusetts is ready to ramp up its vaccinations as soon as they have the doses to distribute.
“We hope that we will see a significant increase at some point in the future, because we do have the ability to dramatically scale the number of people who get vaccinated in Massachusetts, but we can only vaccinate with what we get from the feds,” he said.
The status of the Johnson & Johnson delivery
Massachusetts has received about 58,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot coronavirus vaccine, which was authorized for emergency use by federal regulators on Saturday.
Baker said, however, that he’s been told not to expect any more until the end of March or beginning of April.
“Obviously, that timeline may change,” Baker said. “We certainly hope it does.”
The doses already received have been primarily distributed to hospitals, health systems, and community health centers, Baker said.
No plans to change mask mandate
Even as some states are choosing to lift their mask mandates, Baker said he has no plans to change Massachusetts’ masking rule, which currently requires face masks or face coverings in all public places, indoors or outdoors, regardless of the person’s ability to social distance.
“The mask mandate has been an important element in both encouraging behavior, but also sending a message about the importance of recognizing and understanding that COVID is still very much with us, and people need to take precautions,” he said.
Even people who have been vaccinated should continuing wearing masks, Baker said, until we know more about whether vaccinated people can pass the virus onto others who are not yet vaccinated.
“The mask mandate has nothing to do with whether or not the vaccine is effective. In fact, it’s just the opposite,” he said. “If you have a whole bunch of people who get vaccinated, but could still carry the virus ... that puts people who haven’t been vaccinated or people who remain part of a vulnerable population that hasn’t been vaccinated at risk.”