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State juggles vaccine distribution as fewer online slots frustrate eligible residents

Hospitals begin administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine locally

Mary Chin, CEO of the Asian American Civic Association, reacted after receiving the first dose of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine from nurse Gina Marie Giarusso at Tufts Medical Center on Thursday morning.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine arrived in Massachusetts this week. The state put hundreds of thousands of teachers on deck for COVID-19 shots. And President Biden promised there will be enough doses to inoculate every adult American by the end of May.

But for residents eager to book appointments Thursday morning, there were none to be found at three of the state’s largest and highest-profile mass vaccination sites.

In contrast to the past two Thursdays, when state officials posted at least 50,000 slots at the MassVax sites that run assembly-line vaccinations, only 12,000 went online this week and were quickly snapped up — but none at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, or the Reggie Lewis Center.


Sherry Alpert, 68, was among those who hoped to snag an appointment but instead spent her morning frustrated.

“I opened up the computer at 6:15 in the morning, on every site where anything could possibly be posted,” the Canton resident said Thursday. “Nothing was ever there. You feel like there’s some trick out there that you haven’t learned yet.”

By the end of the day, in the latest change to the vaccine rollout, Governor Charlie Baker announced the Fenway Park vaccination site would close on March 27, just before the start of baseball season at the storied park.

Fenway’s vaccine operation, which began Feb. 1 and has been managed by a contractor, CIC Health, will move to the Hynes Convention Center. CIC Health will open the vaccination site there on March 18, a week after up to 400,000 teachers, school staffers, and child care workers become eligible.

Baker said the explanation for the move was simple: “The fundamental purpose of Fenway Park is to provide a place for the Red Sox to practice and play baseball.”


Baker spoke after a tour of the Lawrence Senior Vaccination Site, one of scores of neighborhood and community health centers that are also immunizing residents. He stressed, however, that his administration isn’t downgrading the role of the bigger, MassVax sites.

Despite the lack of new appointments at Fenway, Gillette, or the Lewis Center on Thursday, the state’s website continued to post and book first-shot appointments for the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at four other big injection centers. They included two that opened last week, in Natick and Dartmouth, along with sites at the DoubleTree in Danvers and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.

But more than 70 percent of the slots at Fenway and Gillette next week were reserved for second shots. Both sites have been open for more than a month, so many people who got their first shots at those stadiums are now returning for scheduled second doses, leaving fewer open slots.

And many of the first shots that were booked at those sites for next week were allocated to the state’s call center, so they never even appeared on the website.

The scheduling gyrations underscored the maddening complexity of the vaccination campaign.

Baker administration officials are struggling to match demand for shots from about 1 million eligible residents with supply that has remained flat — even though federal officials project it will increase substantially by the end of March, as the three vaccine makers crank up their production.

State officials have warned it could take up to a month to vaccinate educators, who were made eligible to comply with a Biden directive, unless the supply is boosted. Baker noted that no additional doses were allocated to vaccinate teachers.


“Keep in mind that because we’re playing a two-shot game with Pfizer and Moderna, you’ve got to make sure you create the capacity to deliver the second shot,” Baker said. “We have a ton of second shots . . . based on first shots that were given three and four weeks ago. So that is going to be a constant issue for us as we move through this.”

State officials received about 150,000 new first doses this week, but they were distributed to a range of vaccination sites, including hospitals, regional collaboratives, community health centers, local boards of health, and pharmacies. Federal officials separately channeled 50,000 doses to CVS pharmacies that vaccinate residents in Massachusetts.

Some vaccination sites got more doses than the previous weeks — notably hospitals, where shipments were suspended and then reinstated — leaving fewer for the MassVax sites. That meant even the newer sites, which weren’t giving second shots, had fewer first doses to administer.

The new J&J vaccine, administered for the first time in Massachusetts this week, will eventually open up more appointments. But the state received just 50,000 doses this week, less than half of what it had anticipated, and won’t get more until the end of the month.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to plot and plan,” the governor said. “There is always a certain amount of unevenness to the way the vaccine gets distributed.”


Massachusetts is not dipping into its weekly allotment of 150,000 first doses to help cover residents seeking their second, Baker said. He said a formula dictates how many second-dose shots the state receives, based on appointments scheduled after first doses. The state expects to administer a total of 250,000 first and second shots this week.

The upcoming arrival of baseball season created another logistical hurdle. But Baker reassured residents who have a second vaccination scheduled at Fenway, promising they’d be able to get their second dose at the Hynes, and that they’d receive details via e-mail. The decision to move the site, he said, was made with Opening Day set for April 1.

The Hynes, which Baker had hoped to sell in the months before the pandemic, offers both the space and the ability to scale up quickly. The site at Fenway is now giving about 1,500 shots a day, and state officials hope the Hynes can ramp up to 5,000 shots a day as federal vaccine supply increases.

“The Hynes was a more permanent solution,” said Baker.

Even as state officials continued to retool the vaccination program, criticism of the user experience for residents seeking appointments — including hundreds of thousands of people who are 65 and over, or have chronic health conditions — grew louder.

State Senator Eric P. Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat who serves on a legislative committee looking into the state’s COVID-19 response, said his constituents are “outraged” over the functioning of the sign-up website, which critics say is cumbersome and difficult to use.


“If a million doses were available, the state would have had the same problem,” he said. It’s precisely because supply is so limited that there is even more at stake with getting the parts right that the state does control.”

Earlier on Thursday, a number of people vented their frustrations on social media after state officials said the new appointments they posted were gone before 11 a.m.

“Massachusetts is open for business and the essential and service workers working at those businesses have no vaccine access,” Dr. Megan Cole, an assistant professor and health services researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter.

Some of the coveted first vaccine doses have been redirected to public health departments and community health centers in high-risk neighborhoods and communities as part of the Baker administration’s vaccine equity program.

“There’s a lot of inequalities that exist, and I urge the governor to continue supporting our efforts locally,” said Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez.

Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this story.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her @cprignano. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.