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Mass. passes 1 million fully vaccinated in fight against coronavirus

Registered nurse Esther McCollin holds a dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as she helps to set up the Whittier Street Health Center Mobile Vaccination site at the Lion of Judah Church in Roxbury.
Registered nurse Esther McCollin holds a dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as she helps to set up the Whittier Street Health Center Mobile Vaccination site at the Lion of Judah Church in Roxbury.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

More than 1 million Massachusetts residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a key milestone in the fight against the pandemic as the state transitions to the next stage of reopening.

The state Department of Public Health reported Friday that the number of people fully vaccinated — either with the two-dose regimen from Moderna and Pfizer or the single shot from Johnson & Johnson — rose to 1,023,968.

Earlier this week, Governor Charlie Baker announced plans to expand eligibility for vaccine appointments, opening them to all residents age 16 and older by April 19. Starting Monday, residents 60 and older can book appointments, along with a wide range of essential workers, such as restaurant and grocery store employees.

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“As of this week, all remaining groups have a timeline for their eligibility date and we look forward to vaccinating more residents as supply increases,” Baker posted Friday on Twitter.

Speaking on WBUR’s “Morning Edition,” Baker said his administration has based decisions on vaccination priorities and the pace of reopening on the latest indicators, including rates of infection, hospitalization, and deaths.

“We pay a ton of attention to the data. I mean, that stuff is critically important as we make decisions,” he said. “And I would just say that some of the changes that we’ve made are, I would argue, consistent with the public health data.”

In Massachusetts, hospitalizations have fallen by 20 percent and deaths dropped by 24 percent since March 1, officials said Thursday.

Public health officials have raised concerns about easing virus-control measures as more contagious variants threaten to cause another surge in cases. On Thursday, a coalition of public health professionals issued an open letter to Baker, urging him to delay the next step of reopening for at least four weeks to allow more people to be immunized.

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On Friday, Baker said that as vaccine supply increases, his goal of reaching the threshold needed to achieve herd immunity by July 4 is reachable.

“I think the vaccine process here is very much a race against time,” he said. “We should have a heck of a lot more people vaccinated in a pretty short period of time. I do get the fact that everybody’s anxious about this and people want to get vaccinated.”

“The people who want to get vaccinated are going to get vaccinated,” he added.

According to census figures, about 14.5 percent of the state’s population is fully immunized against COVID-19. Nationally, the figure is about 12.3 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Massachusetts, the number of administered coronavirus shots rose by 70,475 to 2,804,935, officials said Friday. That amounted to 87 percent of the doses shipped to providers. They included 1,780,967 first shots and 955,134 second shots of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. It also included a total of 68,834 shots of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

As eligibility for vaccinations widens, Baker defended his support for reopening schools. Since August, many students and teachers in public and private schools have been in the classroom and health data shows that schools are among the safest places for both children and adults, he said. The pediatric health community has clearly identified a surge in mental health issues among children learning remotely, he added.

“The data from all over the globe, including here in Massachusetts, it’s overwhelmingly clear that schools with mitigations in place — and the mitigation for the most part is reasonably consistent from place to place — is a safe place,” he said.

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Baker said the tourism industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, in Massachusetts and elsewhere. He said he was not optimistic that the industry will see a fast turnaround this year.

“What that industry needs most of all is for countries to successfully implement the vaccine strategy to get to the point where, you know, herd immunity ... is basically in place, not just nationally here in the US, but globally,” said Baker, who stressed increased vaccinations will help. “But I think it’s going to be a long ride with this one. We will do what we can to support them.”

Baker has frequently touted the state’s top ranking for total vaccine doses administered among states with populations of at least 5 million people, as well as efforts to reach communities of color and immigrant groups in 20 municipalities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Baker is nearing the end of his second term in office, and “Morning Edition” host Bob Oakes asked if he would seek reelection in November 2022. Oakes noted that Baker has held almost daily press conferences since the pandemic began and has been sharply criticized for some of his decisions.

“Aren’t you getting a little tired of this?” Oakes asked.

“There’s plenty to do here,” Baker replied.

Yiqing Shao and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.