Cape Cod’s Barnstable County has the oldest population in Massachusetts; however, as the state prioritizes at-risk seniors in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, state Sen. Julian Cyr says the Cape is being “left behind.
Cyr, who represents most of the Cape and Islands, said during a conference call Thursday that the disproportionately elderly and geographically isolated region is being underserved by vaccination sites and doses, even as Gov. Charlie Baker ramps up efforts to get those in the highly vulnerable 75-year-old-and-up age group vaccinated.
“I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed, and quite frankly pretty enraged,” the Truro Democrat said during the Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force call.
Cyr pointed at a lack of a mass vaccination site on Cape Cod, as well as what he said was insufficient distribution of vaccine doses to Barnstable County by the Baker administration. While the Republican governor announced this week that over 100,000 new appointments at mass vaccination sites and pharmacies across the state would be made available, Cyr said that just 1,300 of them were on the Cape.
“Those filled up within 29 minutes,” he said.
“I continue to hear reports that there are thousands and thousands of available appointments in any given week at Gillette,” Cyr said, referring to one of the state’s five mass vaccination sites. “To me, that indicates that where the vaccines are being made available is actually not accessible to the people who need them.”
According to Cyr, Barnstable County has roughly double the rate of residents over the age of 75 — 12.7 percent of the population, compared to 6.7 percent statewide. According to census figures, 31.4 percent of the population is over the age of 65, a group that is next in line under the state’s vaccine rollout. Statewide, 17 percent of the population is over 65 years old.
Still, in raw numbers, Barnstable County has tens of thousands of fewer people over the age of 65 compared to significantly more populous counties like Middlesex, Suffollk, and Worcester. The county is currently in the middle of the pack in terms of infections per-capita, compared to other counties in Massachusetts.
The call Thursday came after Baker announced plans Wednesday to establish two more additional mass vaccination sites in Natick and Dartmouth, as well as a policy allowing younger individuals accompanying people over the age of 75 to an appointment at a mass vaccination site to also get the vaccine.
While the Cape has at least 10 small vaccination sites at pharmacies and other locations, the Baker administration has promoted the efficiency and scale of mass vaccination centers, each of which will ramp up to administering thousands of doses a day. Cyr said there had been private discussions between the Baker administration and local stakeholders about further expanding vaccine access on the Cape, including a potential mass vaccination site at Cape Cod Community College.
“That hasn’t happened,” he said.
Baker originally said the state planned to establish a total of seven mass vaccination sites, but more recently suggested the state could open more as the rollout progresses.
If the region doesn’t get a mass vaccination site, Cyr urged the Baker administration to distribute doses to local health boards, which were already required to have the infrastructure to set up vaccine sites. So far, he said only two of the county’s 15 boards of health had received any doses.
“Logistically, we are ready to vaccinate people,” Wendy Northcross, the CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said during the call. “We just need more vaccine. We get it, that there’s a constraint of supply. But we are ready.”
Cyr said he was confident that the local health boards could “fill the gap” in the absence of the mass vaccination site, but that there was currently palpable “exasperation” among local officials and residents.
“We’re actually the third oldest county in the country,” he said. “So right now, in this phase of the vaccination, this is when we have the height of our need.”