Why Massachusetts posted fewer online vaccine appointments than usual this week

With limited supply, Charlie Baker says it will be a "constant issue."

Lawrence  MA 3/4/21  05appointments Governor Charlie Baker and John Silva the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center President & CEO inside a mobile vaccination outside the Elder Tenants Council Offices a vaccination site for Lawrence seniors.   (photo by Matthew J Lee/Globe staff)
Gov. Charlie Baker and John Silva, the CEO of the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center at a vaccination site for Lawrence seniors. –Matthew J Lee / The Boston Globe

In each of the past three weeks, officials in Massachusetts have posted upwards of 50,000 new vaccine appointments online every Thursday morning for the following week at the state’s mass vaccination sites.

However, for the Bay Staters who logged onto the state’s signup website this Thursday morning, there were just 12,000 such slots available — and none at three of the state’s largest sites. The appointments that were available elsewhere were, of course, scooped up quickly.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday afternoon that the state is still getting roughly the same number of vaccine doses through the federal government.

So why were there so few mass vaccination site appointments?

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The main reason is that it’s time for residents who already got their first dose at those high-volume locations last month to get their second dose. And with no major increases in supply, those second doses are taking up an increasingly large percentage of the state’s vaccine supply.

Baker says it’s going to be a “constant issue” until the state’s supply of vaccines increases.

“We have a ton of second shots next week, based on first shots that were given three and four weeks ago,” the governor said, adding that “over 70 percent of the shots next week at the mass vax sites are going to be second doses.”

Three of the state’s seven mass vaccination sites – Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and the Reggie Lewis Center — had zero first-dose appointments available Thursday.

Baker also noted that the administration reserved 13,000 appointments Thursday for the state’s vaccine appointment call center for residents who weren’t able to book online and “would otherwise not have had access to secure an appointment.” He also said the state is expanding its vaccine distribution into community health centers and other local providers.

While President Joe Biden’s administration has worked to get vaccine manufacturers to ramp up production, Baker said that Massachusetts is now receiving about 150,000 first doses a week and that they “are not expecting that number to change very much over the course of the rest of this month.”

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According to Baker, the state gets second doses on a schedule that corresponds to when first doses arrive (Pfizer’s vaccine recommends doses be taken 21 days apart, while the Moderna vaccine is to be taken 28 days apart). However, the governor said there has been some “unevenness” in deliveries due to weather and other issues. As a result, Baker says the state is working with 250,000 as the number of overall doses it has available.

Massachusetts did receive 58,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for next week, but Baker said they were mostly distributed to hospitals and community health centers, since the state doesn’t expect to receive more from the company until at least late-March and it’s easier for those locations to do “one-and-done” vaccinations.

Baker said it would be harder for sites that designed their operations to deliver two doses “to just flick a switch and then, all of a sudden, have to flick it back.”

“Remember, we got told you’re going to get this [shipment] and then you get nothing for four weeks,” Baker said. “It’s very easy for the hospitals to literally just work their way through their most vulnerable patients — those over the age of 75, those over 65, bang, bang, bang, bang — and deliver 58,000 doses, very quickly, and then they just go back to doing what they’ve been doing.”

Baker noted that the state has been “very cautious” about only making vaccine appointments available based on the number of doses they receive each week, so that residents aren’t at risk of cancellation if supplies fall short of projections.

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With stagnant supply and the increased number of second-dose appointments, Baker also noted that it would be “hard” to meet Biden’s challenge of getting all educators at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of March.

Baker announced Wednesday that K-12 teachers, childcare workers, and school staff in Massachusetts will become eligible next Thursday, March 11, to book appointments at any of the state’s 170 vaccination sites. The move came after Biden announced Tuesday that such educators would be allowed to get the vaccine through pharmacies that have partnered with the federal government to distribute the shots in some states, including Massachusetts.

Along with previously eligible residents who have not yet booked an appointment, Baker says the group of 400,000 educators means that close to 1 million Bay Staters will be eligible next week to sign up for the vaccine.

Baker said that Massachusetts has built the capacity to administer “easily” twice the current level of 250,000 total shots a week.

“We could do far more, but to do far more we’re gonna need far more vaccine from the feds,” he said.


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