City Hall opened its doors Thursday to offer residents COVID-19 vaccinations, including booster shots, in a first-of-its-kind clinic to help combat a spike in cases and fears of the new, possibly more transmissible Omicron variant.
And residents arrived — by the hundreds, the demand for shots so high that a steady line of eager patients snaked down the stairs from the third-floor mezzanine where the shots were offered.
“Boston needs to lead the way in closing vaccination gaps, in getting people boosted,” Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday, moments after receiving a booster dose of the Moderna vaccine in her left arm.
Wu acknowledged a few wrinkles with the rollout of the clinic: Far more people rushed to schedule appointments than originally expected, leaving walk-in patients wondering if they would ever get a turn in the chair. Many did, and by the end of the day 369 patients had received a vaccination.
Wu said the initial kinks in the rollout were part of a “learning phase” for the walk-in clinic, the first time a clinic of such scale was held on the mezzanine, and the mayor said the interest in the programs showed the demand for vaccinations as COVID-19 cases begin to spike again.
“It just shows how much we need to be putting even more resources into making vaccines available,” the mayor said. “The interest is there, the demand is there. We have to keep taking down barriers for people to come in, and have a convenient time and place to get this done.”
The rollout of the clinic arrived with the drumbeat of a new concerted marketing campaign Wu unveiled Monday, aimed at combatting the latest phase of the pandemic. The Wu administration is pursuing a four-pronged strategy: to increase access to vaccinations and boosters; expand COVID-19 testing; enhance public health communications; and expand a prevention information campaign.
Cases throughout Massachusetts are rising sharply. On Thursday, the state reported 5,472 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 27 new coronavirus deaths; 1,239 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital.
The rising cases have sparked a number of new restrictions and efforts to tamp down the latest COVID surge. In recent days, several Massachusetts colleges and universities announced new requirements for students, faculty, and staff to get boosters for the spring semester. And on Thursday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said it would mandate masks to attend all public Masses, including weddings and funerals, starting Dec. 18.
Back in City Hall, Bisola Ojikutu, the executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said Thursday that the city had purchased 20,000 rapid test kits, and could begin distributing them for free next week in communities with higher COVID-19 rates, and where residents face barriers to purchasing them on their own.
She also said the city has expanded access to walk-in clinics in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, Hyde Park, and Roslindale, and will roll out mass vaccination clinics on the weekends, starting this coming Saturday at the Vine Street Community Center in Roxbury. Several Boston public schools will offer clinics, as well.
“We are working against the clock right now, as we see new variants coming, as we see a surge heading into the winter,” Wu told reporters. “We need to be using every bit of infrastructure, connectivity, public spaces that we have to make sure people can come in and get vaccinated.”
Moments after getting her own booster shot, Wu accompanied James Hills, 50, of Dorchester, an advocate in Boston’s Black communities and the host of a “Java with Jimmy” community educational program that he posts live on social media, as he was getting his own booster. Hills said that it was important that residents who demand access to vaccinations, specifically those in Black and brown and underserved communities, take advantage of the opportunities when they are offered.
“For everything we fought for, we need to be here to experience it,” he said. “I think it’s definitely important that we demonstrate the things we talk about — she got hers, I got mine.”
Hundreds of others lined up throughout the day, as well.
By noon, Marcia Burley, 76, was about halfway through a 30-person line outside the clinic. She heard about the vaccinations Thursday morning, while watching television news, and was soon making her way to City Hall.
“I said, ‘I’m getting myself down there right away,’” said Burley, who added that she didn’t want to deal with the hassle of making an appointment at her local pharmacy.
T.J. Flaherty, 24, who came to the clinic during his lunch break, also said making an appointment at CVS seemed like too much effort. He had to make an appointment to get the vaccine later in the day, because of the wait, but by that point he didn’t mind.
“I’m impressed by the line. I didn’t know how long it would be, but it’s good that a lot of people are coming,” he said.
Brian Burke, 61, was also surprised by the length of the line. It took him an hour and a half to go through the whole process.
“But now I’m done with it, so it’s worth it,” he said.
Burke and several residents expressed concern that the city could be doing more to make vaccinations available, pointing to the demand of the first such clinic at City Hall.
Nick Harrman, 25, of Allston, said he had struggled to find a time to get a shot before Christmas.
“There’s a major lack of appointments. I’ve looked everywhere I possibly could and it’s impossible to find it anywhere,” said Harrman, adding that he even looked at pharmacies 50 miles away.
Harrman, who works in entertainment at a venue that does not require patrons to show proof of vaccination, said he’s been eager to get the booster. He said many of his friends are too, but it’s just not accessible.
“It would be hugely beneficial [to have more clinics],” he said. “The COVID cases in the city would drop exponentially if people could easily get their boosters and masks were handed out everywhere.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect number of vaccinations distributed at the City Hall clinic.