City, Coronavirus

Baker announces next phase of vaccination efforts, changes to vaccination sites

Vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Mass vaccination sites across Massachusetts will gradually close this summer after walk-in vaccination appointments were made available May 10. COURTESY OF LISA FERDINANDO VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Baker-Polito administration announced plans for the closure of four out of seven mass vaccination sites in the state by the end of June earlier this month in a press conference. Starting May 10, new walk-up appointment options became available to the public at select mass vaccination sites to help increase accessibility.

Hynes Convention Center, Gillette Stadium, DoubleTree in Danvers and Natick Mall sites will close at the end of June, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said in a press conference May 3. 

In their place, Baker said there will be an increased focus on targeted, community-based vaccination efforts — including efforts to increase vaccine availability in the 20 Massachusetts communities most disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Baker said the administration’s initial goal in December to vaccinate around 4 million people is on track to completion, with 4.1 million individuals expected to be fully vaccinated by June. 

“This represents an incredible achievement,” Baker said at the May 3 press conference. “The people of Massachusetts are outperforming the rest of the country by leaps and bounds.”

The administration cited the milestone as part of the reason for entering the new phase of vaccination efforts, to create more targeted, smaller-scale efforts to increase vaccine accessibility.

Local efforts to improve vaccine accessibility include allowing physicians to administer the vaccine at their medical practice as well as having vaccinations be available without an appointment or by walk-in, he said. 

“We’re extremely grateful to the health care providers, the vendors and the municipalities who’ve worked tirelessly to run smooth operations statewide to get our people vaccinated,” he said. 

To further increase vaccine accessibility in 20 of the state’s most disproportionately impacted communities, Baker announced that the state’s new vaccination efforts will expand mobile clinics to community-based organizations, such as houses of worship and senior centers.

The state also plans to double vaccine distribution to these communities, according to the press release.

In the meantime, Hynes Convention Center, Roxbury’s Reggie Lewis Center, the Danvers’ DoubleTree, Springfield’s Eastfield Mall, the former Circuit City in Dartmouth and the Natick Mall will offer walk-in vaccination appointments. 

Having the option to walk in without an appointment will make vaccinations more accessible, Baker said, which — with the targeted community efforts — will help continue the state’s vaccination success and journey back to normal.

“We should be able to reach many more of our residents and build on the national leading success we’ve had in distributing vaccines so far,” Baker said May 5, “which will help us further reopen our economy and protect our communities.”

The Governor’s Office and the COVID-19 Command Center could not be reached for additional comment at the time of publication.

Oluchi Ota, a vaccination assistant at Hynes Convention Center and a student at Boston College, said with the “general decline” in appointments she’s seen overall and the number of resources the site needs, it’s “hard to justify keeping it open” if appointments keep declining.

Given this, she said she thinks vaccination walk-in appointments are beneficial.

“I think walk-ins are a really good idea,” Ota said. “I’m glad that now we have enough supply and enough resources to distribute them to anyone who wants to come in and get them.”

Cambridge resident Faith Moore said she was “very impressed” with the administration and her own experience receiving the first shot of the vaccine at Hynes Convention Center. 

“I was really proud of our state,” Moore said. 

She pointed particularly to the administration’s work to allow physicians and doctors to vaccinate in their own practice as a “good plan.”

Moore also said walk-in options really benefit seniors, who often aren’t proficient with technology and could have trouble making an online appointment.

“Being able to walk in and the big welcoming sign saying ‘no appointment, no charge,’ that’s fantastic,” she said.

Organizations within the state are also working to increase accessibility.

Jeff Bellows, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’s vice president of corporate citizenship and public affairs, wrote in an email that BCBS is sponsoring free Bluebike rides to and from vaccination sites to help Metro-Boston residents easily access the vaccine.

“We are committed to helping individuals across Massachusetts by removing transportation barriers to this critical vaccine,” Bellows wrote.

Bellows wrote that rides to both vaccine doses are available to Bostonians and residents of the system’s other nine municipalities using the codes BLUEVAX1 or BLUEVAX2. 

In collaboration with the Metro-Boston municipalities who own Bluebikes and Lyft, which operates the Bluebikes system, we see this as a great opportunity to provide vaccine access while promoting the health benefits of bike riding as our communities and residents of Massachusetts stay safe through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. 

The state encourages residents to use VaxFinder to find a vaccination location and plan their visit. Baker said he hopes the next phase of vaccine efforts helps to continue to expand vaccine availability and move the state closer to normal.

“We look forward to getting back to normal and putting the darkness of the pandemic behind us,” Baker said.

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