Coronavirus

Massachusetts opens up vaccine eligibility to younger companions of people 75 or older

Officials will allow a single friend or family member accompanying a resident over the age of 75 to schedule their own appointment on the same day at any of the state's mass vaccination sites, regardless of age.

Hazel Reynolds, a 96-year-old Dedham resident, is pushed in her wheelchair by her daughter Janet Reynolds to get a COVID-19 vaccine at Gillette Stadium. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

Beginning this Thursday, individuals accompanying Massachusetts residents over the age of 75 who are getting a COVID-19 vaccine may make an appointment to get vaccinated themselves at any of the state’s mass vaccination sites.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration announced the new eligibility for “caregivers” Wednesday morning, but officials say it includes any trusted friend or family member, regardless of age.

“Companion is probably a better word,” Baker told reporters during a press conference at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites in Danvers.

Effective on Thursday, the new option allows those planning to accompany a Phase 2 eligible resident over the age of 75 to book their own vaccination appointment for the same day and location.The option is only available at the state’s mass vaccination sites. And individuals must attest online or through the state’s new vaccine appointment 211 hotline that they are “accompanying someone who is age 75+ to their vaccination appointment” and that their appointment is the same day.

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Baker told reporters Wednesday that officials had learned that some people in the 75+ age group were “hesitant to go to a mass vaccination site alone or may have difficulty getting to a site.” The intention of the new program, officials said, is to get more people over the age of 75 vaccinated before the state opens up eligibility to the next group in Phase 2 of the rollout.

“One of the things we heard from some of the senior groups was that people don’t want to put the burden, if you want to call it that, on a family member, companion, friend, whatever it might be, to take them to a mass vax site to get vaccinated,” Baker said. “One way to make it a little less of a burden … is to be able to say to that person they can get vaccinated when they come with them.”

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Officials say individuals should try to schedule two separate appointments at or around the same time. If they can’t, the mass vaccination sites will work to try to take both individuals together.

Only one companion is permitted to schedule an appointment with each 75+ resident. A companion may also receive their first dose of a vaccine, even if the 75+ resident is getting their second dose.

While the idea of a mass vaccination site may sound “daunting,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders stressed the locations have staff on hand to assist people through every step of the process and schedule their second dose appointment. Sudders said she hoped the ability to also bring along a companion to get vaccinated “will bring an extra level of comfort to those who may be hesitant or don’t want to bother their caregiver or loved one.”

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Sudders also stressed that people should not accept calls offering assistance from someone they do not know or trust to take them to a vaccination appointment. The eligibility is however technically open to non-Massachusetts residents.

“I prefer they not be, obviously, because this is a program for people in Massachusetts, but I don’t see how we could deny them,” Baker said.

He also rejected the idea that allowing companions of any age to get the vaccine with someone over the age of 75 would effectively delay the rollout from expanding to other groups, though he has not said when that would be.

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“I think just the opposite,” he said. “I think what’s more likely to happen is you’ll get a lot more of the 75-year-old community to agree to come and get vaccinated because they’ll be willing to ask somebody to help them come with them. And that will make it easier to move into the next round.”

The second group in Phase 2 is residents between the age of 65 and 74, as well as people with multiple underlying health conditions that put them at an increased risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19. 

However, Baker put an emphasis on vaccinating as many people as possible above the age of 75, which is the threshold at which the risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 begins to increase significantly, according to public health data.

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“Honestly, we got to get as far through the 75s as we can, because they are, in many respects, far more vulnerable to COVID than anybody else,” he said.

The news came as Baker’s administration also announced plans Wednesday to set up the state’s sixth and seventh mass vaccination sites at the Natick Mall in Natick and at the Circuit City in Dartmouth.

The Natick location is scheduled to open Feb. 22 and will allow eligible residents to begin booking appointments next Thursday, Feb. 18. The site will begin administering 500 doses a day, before increasing over the course of several weeks to administering 3,000 doses a day, officials said.

The Dartmouth site is scheduled to open Feb. 24 and will also allow residents to begin making appointments Feb. 18. The site will also begin at 500 doses a day, before ramping up to 2,000 over the next few weeks.

Massachusetts currently has five mass vaccination sites across the state, including two in Boston and others in Danvers, Foxborough, and Springfield (currently, the Reggie Lewis Center site is only open to Boston residents).

Baker’s administration said Wednesday that more than 53,000 appointments will be posted online Thursday for mass vaccination sites in Danvers, Foxborough, Springfield, and Boston (Fenway Park). Another 50,000 appointments available at local pharmacy locations will also be posted online by the end of the week, officials said:

  • CVS Health: 8,064 appointments were posted this week, with an additional 21,000 appointments going live tomorrow, and another 3,000 appointments being posted daily on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Walgreens: 7,620 appointments this week (over 1,000 released each day)
  • Topco (Wegmans, Big Y, Price Chopper): 3,100 appointments this week
  • Retail Business Services (Stop and Shop, Hannaford): 2,000 appointments this week

Officials say that residents should go to the state’s vaccine website for details on booking an appointment. Currently, all Phase 1 populations and the first group in Phase 2 of the state’ vaccine rollout — individuals 75 or older — are eligible to get the vaccine.

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