Massachusetts plans to close four of the state’s seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June, Governor Charlie Baker said Monday, as Massachusetts and other New England states lead the nation in the rate of people who have received at least the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Nearly 4 million Massachusetts residents are either fully or partially inoculated against the virus, almost five months into a massive and expedited effort to stem the spread of COVID. The pace of the campaign will allow the state to suspend inoculations at Gillette Stadium, the Doubletree Hotel in Danvers, Hynes Convention Center in Boston, and Natick Mall, officials said.
The large-scale privately run sites at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, and the former Circuit City in Dartmouth will remain open for now.
With the closures, the state will shift its resources to 22 regional sites and expand mobile clinics to reach more people of color and other populations who have shown lower rates of vaccination. Baker said more than 21,000 doses have been administered through mobile vaccination efforts in several municipalities including Boston, Chelsea, Brockton, Fall River, Springfield, and New Bedford.
“Now that we believe we are going to hit the 4.1 million goal we started with in the next few weeks, it’s time to adapt our vaccination effort to make sure we get to some of the harder-to-reach populations,” Baker said during a State House briefing.
The Baker administration also said Monday it is seeking to increase the supply of vaccines to primary care doctors by mid-May. Only a small percentage of the doses given out so far were administered in private primary care practices, prompting complaints by doctors that the state was overlooking their potential as important players in the campaign.
The Massachusetts Medical Society commended state’s move.
“We believe that physicians can deploy a personalized approach to reaching patients who have yet to be vaccinated – especially those who must overcome a lack of access due to gaps in equity and those who still may be vaccine hesitant,” the society said in a statement.
The push to get shots in arms as quickly as possible appears to be paying off in Massachusetts and the rest of the region.
New Hampshire led all states with 60.7 percent of residents having gotten at least a first dose or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Hampshire was followed by Massachusetts (57.3 percent), Vermont (56.6), Connecticut (55.6), and Maine (55.2). Decidedly non-New England Hawaii (53.7) was next on the list, but Rhode Island (53.3) followed quickly behind.
The metric is one of a number of measures of progress that the CDC tracks and releases to the public.
Rhode Island’s Governor Dan McKee said Monday the state is completing plans to dismantle the state’s mass vaccination site at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, in a series of tweets Monday morning, drew a connection between the high vaccination rates and recent declines in coronavirus cases in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.
Noting the experience of Israel, he also suggested that getting 50 percent of the population vaccinated may be a “turning point” where cases begin to drop sharply.
“At what point should we see cases in US begin to drop sharply from vaccinations?” Jha wrote. He said it was “complicated but experience from Israel says 45-50 percent of its population is vaccinated.”
While the “US is shy of that,” he said, some states are past that threshold.
“So do we have evidence it’s working there? Why yes we do,” he said, pointing to New England.
Most of the New England states were also among the leaders in terms of percentage of population fully vaccinated, which requires two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson. New Hampshire was an exception, falling in the bottom half of states in that measure, according to the CDC data.
Nationally, according to the CDC, more than 147 million people, or 44.3 percent, of the population have received at least one dose.
Despite the progress, Massachusetts health officials are still urging residents to get vaccinated if they haven’t yet.
Dr. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and chair of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine advisory group, said at Monday’s briefing that “in all age groups, we see data that shows that fully vaccinated individuals have a decreased risk of dying, by more than 29 times what it would be if they were un-vaccinated.”
Baker touted the work of mobile clinics and regional collaboratives, including those in East Falmouth, Orleans, West Barnstable, Attleboro, Fall River, Somerset, Taunton, Chicopee, Marshfield, Westborough, Amherst, Northampton, Palmer, Upton, Uxbridge, and West Springfield.
“The Metro North regional collaborative will start operating three new clinics, including one at the Encore casino in Everett, the Tufts Campus in Medford, and at the Cambridge Health Alliance location in Somerville,” Baker said.
Boston Medical Center will schedule appointments for individuals at the South Bay shopping center in Dorchester, he said.
In addition, Baker said, “Lynn, New Bedford, Worcester, and Fall River are offering more mobile clinics at local churches and temples in different languages, and the city of Brockton is holding several clinics at municipal housing and the Westgate Mall.”
Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said Massachusetts’ efforts have paid dividends, particularly with the vulnerable senior population.
“No one is forgotten, and strategies must and will continue to evolve based on the data, the experience, and the opportunities available,” Sudders said at the briefing. “And to the millions of Massachusetts residents who have made the decision to protect themselves, protect their loved ones, and their community: we’re in this together, and together we can do this.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.