Traveling to vaccinate Mass teachers intensifies competition for limited shots

Although they have to wait until next week to register on state sites, teachers and Related workers became eligible Wednesday at 47 of Massachusetts CVS pharmacies that receive doses of the vaccine directly from the federal government. But these outlets had few appointments available.

Baker, during a visit to West Parish Elementary School in Gloucester, said he was adding educators to the eligibility pool to comply with President Biden’s directive on Tuesday to vaccinate American teachers by the end of the month of March. Baker estimated that teachers and related workers in Massachusetts would take a month to receive the first vaccines.

The governor said the first shipments of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, sent mainly to hospitals this week, contained just 58,000 doses for Massachusetts – less than half of what state officials initially learned arrive.

Baker said he didn’t expect the next batch to arrive until the end of the month, too late to be used to vaccinate teachers on Biden’s schedule.

“That’s obviously not what we wanted to hear,” Baker said.

The governor formulated his decision to put teachers in the priority queue to avoid confusion with federal rules.

“We will go with the flow with the federal government to be consistent,” Baker said. “But we obviously need a lot more doses a lot sooner. . . if we really want to make our way through this group as quickly as possible.

His announcement marked the latest pivot in rapid vaccine rollout. In January, Baker put residents over 65 ahead of educators, citing new directions from federal officials. Last month, his administration halted the distribution of vaccines to hospitals and doctors, only to reverse the course a week and a half later.

The new course correction supported the teachers. Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said they were in high spirits on Wednesday.

“As an educator for 30 years, I can tell you with confidence that educators across the state are feeling joyful,” Najimy said. “We have just had a huge victory for our students, our school employees, the whole school community.

The move was also hailed by Chhimi Gurung, owner of Diki Shining Star daycare in Somerville, who said vaccinating his seven preschool teachers would help keep his business afloat.

“This is very good news,” Gurung said. “We are already seeing parents feel more comfortable. We tell our employees how to register. Educators are also teachers. “

Behind the scenes, state officials were scrambling to accommodate the federal call to put teachers first. The move was not discussed in a conference call between governors and White House officials on Tuesday.

“The first time we heard about it was the tweet [from the president] yesterday afternoon, ”Baker said.

Baker said the state will designate certain days for teachers, likely weekends, at seven mass vaccination sites, such as Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

But he hesitated when asked if teachers would have a ‘fast lane’ for vaccinations just to get them vaccinated before the state’s goal of bringing elementary school students back to in-person learning by April. . Baker said older adults and those with underlying health conditions remain the most at risk of dying if infected with the coronavirus.

“We’re not getting any new doses, okay?” he said. “I don’t see how we can choose to withdraw vaccines from people over 65. . . or people who have two co-morbidities, many of whom have repeatedly proven to be terribly dangerous when it comes to COVID. “

State lawmakers, who have urged Baker to prioritize teachers, used Wednesday’s news to call for rapid and local distribution of the vaccine to educators.

Acknowledging the supply constraints, House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a former teacher, said he was confident the federal government could increase the state’s allocation by the end of the month. In the meantime, he said, he is working with the teachers’ association on a plan to distribute vaccine doses, preferably through local health officials rather than mass vaccination sites. .

“I’m not trying to judge who should get the vaccine,” said Mariano, a Quincy Democrat. He said older people and those with co-morbidities are “more likely to die from it, and if you’re a 30-year-old sixth-grade teacher, you’re probably not going to die from it.” But the best way for parents to feel confident in schools, he said, is to have teachers immunized.

Senate Speaker Karen E. Spilka said she also wanted to see Baker come up with a more localized plan to distribute vaccines to educators and school staff. “If they have to wait on the website and queue elsewhere, that won’t work,” the Ashland Democrat said. “Most of these people we’re talking about teach during the day. They don’t have hours and hours to wait on a website. “

The teachers were part of a larger group of essential employees – ranging from grocery store clerks to sanitation workers – who were next for vaccines in Massachusetts. The decision to move teachers forward has prompted calls to give other members of this group faster access to vaccines.

Jim Evers, president of Carmen Local 589, which represents MBTA workers such as train, streetcar and bus drivers, said he believes its members deserve the vaccines as well. Evers said the Baker administration rejected a proposal to vaccinate workers at a former Lowe’s site owned by MBTA in Quincy.

“Baker has been putting transit workers in the backseat for a long time,” Evers said. “Our members have been in danger since day one of this pandemic.”

When teachers qualify next week, Massachusetts officials estimate, there will be about 1 million residents who will be eligible but have not yet been vaccinated.. This includes the 400,000 educators and those from previous priority groups such as the elderly and residents with underlying health problems.

This will present another stress test for the state’s much-criticized web portal, where residents looking for vaccine appointments have spent long periods in virtual waiting rooms only to learn it doesn’t. there were no slots available.

State officials plan to post 12,000 new appointments for the first vaccines at mass vaccination centers on Thursday on their website, Morning. The number of postings will be smaller than in previous weeks, officials said, due to the high volume of appointments for the second shot. The first licensed vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, require two doses.

Aside from the new doses of J&J, Massachusetts still only receives about 150,000 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine each week and has not been told when its allocation will increase. The allotment includes a varying number of doses, roughly 50,000 this week, which the Biden administration routes directly to CVS outlets in Massachusetts through a federal retail pharmacy program.

Mike Festa, director of AARP Massachusetts, said a large number of residents over the age of 65 – who became eligible for vaccines two weeks ago – remain unable to make appointments despite their daily efforts.

“It is always an extraordinary, frustrating and Herculean task to get the vaccine,” said Festa, who was unable to make an appointment himself. “Common sense tells you that adding new groups exacerbates the challenge of immunizing priority populations.”

The Globe team’s Felicia Gans and Alexa Gagosz contributed to this story.

Robert Weisman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @GlobeRobW. Matt Stout can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @mattpstout.

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