All Massachusetts residents age 16 and older became eligible for a coronavirus vaccine on Monday, a major milestone in the fight against the pandemic and a crucial test for the state’s vaccination program.
With eligibility extended to about 1.7 million more residents, the state’s scheduling website faced a new surge in demand, raising the prospect of long, frustrating waits for openings. But some residents said they received an e-mail or text on Sunday — a full day before they were eligible — inviting them to book appointments. To great relief, their long wait for immunity from the virus was nearly at an end.
Kirsten Bakstran, 26, was prepared to “stay up until midnight to try to score an appointment” and figured the process would likely take a few days. But she happened to wake up to a text from the state and immediately booked a slot.
“The process could not have been easier,” she said. “I’m not sure why I was lucky enough to get it early, but I’m hoping it will be just as easy for everyone else. I guess one benefit for being at the end of phase three is that the process seems to be smoother.”
The Baker administration has said the state’s expanded preregistration system and improved logistics at the vaccine sites have helped streamline the appointment process. As of Monday, more than 1.7 million people had preregistered at mass vaccination sites and a half dozen regional vaccination centers, according to the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center. About 1.1 million of those have been contacted to schedule appointments.
The Command Center said “thousands of appointments” had been booked on Monday, and that there were no problems with the online tools put in place to handle registration and booking for vaccinations.
Olivia Ferri, 16, had heard about problems with the website from when the state expanded eligibility in the past, so the Saugus resident stayed up until midnight in hopes of landing an appointment through the CVS website.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to finally be eligible,” Ferri said by e-mail.
Her plan worked. She was able to book her first shot for Friday at her local CVS. With her school, Austin Preparatory School in Reading, now back in-person full time, Ferri said she believes “it’s imperative that we get the bulk of students/faculty/staff vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Eric Pennington, 37, preregistered on the state’s website weeks ago, but as of Monday morning had not been notified of any openings. So he checked out the popular @vaccinetime Twitter account, which helps users find appointments in Massachusetts. On the first link he clicked, he was able to book an appointment for Thursday morning at a Greater Lawrence Family Health Center vaccine site in Methuen.
“It’s a little bit of trek, but I’m perfectly happy to make the trek for this,” Pennington said. “It’s one of those moments when I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Anjelica Oswald, 28, who lives in Somerville, woke up at 4 a.m. to book an appointment through the CVS website.
“I spent most of my time refreshing that page,” she said. At one point, she was able to start booking an appointment but lost the chance when she hit the back button on her browser. But she didn’t give up and eventually secured a coveted spot at a CVS in East Boston.
“I felt flooded with instant relief,” she said. “All my family and friends [in the Midwest] have been vaccinated for a while. I’ve been waiting for this moment for weeks. It feels really good.”
The state halted the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week so that federal officials could investigate a rare blood-clotting condition among recipients. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, said Sunday that a decision about resuming use of the J&J vaccine should come Friday.
Despite the pause, Massachusetts is now administering an average of more than 90,000 shots a day. It has fully vaccinated 2 million adults, putting it nearly halfway to Governor Charlie Baker’s target of immunizing 4.1 million residents by the Fourth of July.
Baker said last week that opening vaccine eligibility to all adults is “a significant milestone in our mission to vaccinate eligible residents and bring this pandemic to a close.”
Nationwide, almost 130 million people age 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or about half of all adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When Victoria Dominguez, 24, received notice from the state that she was eligible for the vaccine, she almost deleted it, assuming it was another reminder that she was on the wait list. Once she realized her time had finally come, she landed an appointment at Gillette Stadium almost immediately.
Despite her “intense phobia of needles,” Dominguez said she felt as if “some small weight” had been lifted.
“There is comfort in knowing that I’ll be able to do my part in protecting those around me, and this gives me a sense of optimism I have been lacking for much of the pandemic,” she said.
In Roxbury, Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury opened a vaccination clinic in partnership with Boston Medical Center. Acting Mayor Kim Janey said “faith-based institutions in high-risk communities, like Twelfth Baptist, have taken on the task of hosting these clinics and underscoring what it means to do the good work that is needed to achieve an equitable recovery, reopening, and renewal of Boston,” according to a transcript of her prepared remarks.
Dr. Thea L. James, BMC’s vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer, said the hospital had seen “the toll that COVID-19 has taken on Roxbury and the surrounding neighborhoods.”
“But we come here today full of hope, not fear,” she said. “We know vaccines are the way out of this pandemic. The vaccine will put us on the road to thriving again.”
John Hilliard and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Globe correspondent Matt Berg also contributed.
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