Thursday marked the first day that companions of Massachusetts residents over the age of 75 with an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine could sign up to get vaccinated at the same time at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites.
Officials say the new eligibility, designed to incentivize more people in the 75+ group to get vaccinated, is meant for trusted friends and family members, who might provide some comfort to seniors who would otherwise be worried about the logistics of getting the vaccine by themselves.
But it appears to have had some unintended, if predictable, consequences.
Several dozen Craigslist ads in the Boston area and other parts of Massachusetts have popped up since the policy was announced Wednesday, anonymously offering seniors free rides to their vaccine so that they could also get vaccinated; some are even offering to pay money — up to $200 — for the opportunity.
“Totally Normal for your state’s vaccination plan to create a market on Craigslist for people willing to pay to drive seniors to their appointments,” state Rep. Steven Owens, a Watertown Democrat, said in a tweet Thursday morning, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
Totally Normal for your state’s vaccination plan to create a market on Craigslist for people willing to pay to drive seniors to their appointments. pic.twitter.com/5CosCWsz30
— Steve Owens (@VoteSteveOwens) February 11, 2021
Gov. Charlie Baker, who announced the new policy Wednesday, said during a press conference Thursday that it was “pretty disturbing” that people were “trying to take advantage of this program” and urged seniors not to pursue such offers.
“If you’re 75 years or older and you need assistance going through the vaccination process, you should only reach out to somebody that you know or trust to bring you as your companion,” Baker said, reiterating that the policy is meant for someone like a child, spouse, neighbor, or caregiver.
“Don’t take calls or offers from people you don’t know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone,” the Republican governor said. “If you’re contacted by somebody soliciting to take you to a site, please report it to the authorities.”
Baker argued Wednesday that the new eligibility for companions “will make it easier” for the state to expand the vaccine rollout to additional groups in Phase 2 of the rollout by speeding up the rate at which people in the 75+ age group get vaccinated. However, several lawmakers said Thursday that it does so at the expense of fairness and potentially even safety.
“Yes, this will improve efficiency, but it’s an incoherent policy that puts #equity further out of reach (and potentially puts seniors in danger),” state Rep. Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, tweeted.
Behold: “The Buddy System.” If only we had a good manager with healthcare experience in charge of the state’s vaccination program. Yes, this will improve efficiency, but it’s an incoherent policy that puts #equity further out of reach (and potentially puts seniors in danger). pic.twitter.com/SOMbPScjaN
— Mike Connolly (@MikeConnollyMA) February 11, 2021
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