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More than 400,000 Mass. residents sign up for COVID-19 vaccine through new preregistration system

Governor Charlie Baker with Cardinal Sean O'Malley spoke to students in a science lab class at St. Mary's in Lynn on Friday.
Governor Charlie Baker with Cardinal Sean O'Malley spoke to students in a science lab class at St. Mary's in Lynn on Friday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

More than 400,000 Massachusetts residents preregistered for COVID-19 vaccine appointments by Friday evening, even as the state sought to do more to reach people of color and immigrant communities.

Launched around 3 a.m. Friday, the state’s new preregistration site prompts users with a series of questions to sort eligibility, and takes just a few minutes to fill out. Once the preregistration is complete, people receive a confirmation through their delivery method of choice — text, e-mail, or phone call — as well as a weekly update on their status.

No immediate problems were reported Friday, a positive development after weeks of complaints about a balky sign-up process. It could still take weeks for the actual vaccine appointments to arrive.

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The new service signs up users for shots at the mass vaccination sites such as Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. “I think we’re up to about 200,000 people preregistered at this point, which is great,” said Governor Charlie Baker during a briefing around 9:40 a.m., hours after the new system went live.

Meanwhile, criticism continued to mount about the fairness of the vaccine progress. The Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights said in a statement that “people of color and immigrants remain effectively locked out of equitable vaccine access.”

The group said it’s “now convening medical providers and grassroots groups to explore community-based interventions such as setting up vaccination tents and hosting mobile vaccination units.”

Baker, who toured a parochial school in Lynn where students extolled the virtues of masked-up, in-person learning amid the pandemic, defended his administration’s outreach to communities of color and other vulnerable groups.

He said officials are continuing to “expand support” for the mass vaccination site at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, where half the appointments are held for neighborhood residents. He also said the state is working with “the 20 most disproportionately [impacted] communities” and groups in those communities to get vaccines to more people of color.

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New state data released Thursday reveal striking disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates in the 20 Massachusetts cities and towns hardest hit by the pandemic, especially among Latino residents who lag behind other racial and ethnic groups in inoculation rates. In Lawrence, where 82 percent of the population is Latino, just 2 percent of Latino residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared with 47 percent of white residents, who make up just 12 percent of the population. Similar disparities were found in Chelsea, Holyoke, and other cities.

Baker said the state has a contract with two entities, Archipelago Strategies and Health Care For All, to engage in “the equivalent of a campaign” to promote the safety of the vaccine in the hardest hit municipalities.

The goal, Baker said, is to “work with local organizations and local community leaders to knock on somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million doors to make sure that we deliver a message to folks, through those organizations and those individuals, about the importance of getting vaccinated, why it’s safe and important for people to get vaccinated.”

The new preregistration system, meanwhile, could solve one of the most glaring problems in the vaccine rollout statewide: a frustrating online user experience that has forced thousands to compete for a limited number of appointments. Going forward, people will be able to go online and enter their information, and later be alerted when it is their turn for booking.

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As of Friday, more than 2.4 million doses had been administered in Massachusetts, and 853,433 residents were fully vaccinated with their first and second shots.

On Friday, Baker returned to his oft-repeated themes of the need for more vaccine supply from the federal government and the hopes he has for the Johnson & Johnson single-dose option to speed up the process.

His briefing came one day after President Biden pledged in his first prime-time address Thursday night to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1 and raised the possibility of beginning to “mark our independence from this virus” by the Fourth of July.

“I think getting to the president’s objective is absolutely doable, but it’s going to require a significant increase in available supply to be able to deliver that kind of volume over a reasonably short period of time,” Baker said. “So if they really do deliver at the end of March, the beginning of April, the end of April, the kinds of numbers that people have projected they may be able to deliver, then I think the president’s objectives are absolutely achievable.”

Baker noted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to administer because it requires only one shot and doesn’t need to be kept in a deep freeze.

“I think that has tremendous potential to put a really big mobile presence in a lot of these disproportionately affected communities,” the governor said.

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Lawyers for Civil Rights said in its statement that one community organization is willing to facilitate vaccinations at the Villa Victoria development in Boston’s South End.

The group, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, has “a strong interest in establishing a vaccination site in the Villa Victoria housing community in Boston’s South End neighborhood,” Lawyers for Civil Rights said. “Villa Victoria is an affordable housing community with predominantly Latinx residents, and is well-situated to serve the vaccination needs for the sizable Latinx community in the South End.”

Lawyers for Civil Rights added that Villa Victoria “has a large, open-air plaza as well as indoor community spaces, all of which could be utilized as vaccination sites. Critically, Villa Victoria is also a space that is well-known within the Latinx community and thus could promote the goal of overcoming vaccine hesitancy resulting from cultural concerns and language barriers.”

Approval of Baker’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has dropped significantly since the early days of the pandemic last spring, according to survey results released Friday.

“Governor Baker has seen a gradual decline in approval for his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak throughout the pandemic, starting at a remarkably high 80 percent approval ... and suffering a gradual decline to 59 percent,” according to a report from Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers, and Northwestern universities.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Martin Finucane and Deanna Pan of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Breanne Kovatch contributed.

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.