Nearly every member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to set up a system to allow residents to pre-register and receive a notification for COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Two months into the state’s bumpy and uneven vaccine rollout, 10 of the 11 members of the state’s all-Democratic delegation signed a letter to the Republican governor arguing that a centralized pre-registration system would help officials target populations where there is unmet demand for the vaccine and streamline the appointment-scheduling process for both patients and providers.
“A disjointed and cumbersome sign-up process has left seniors confused and unable to access desperately needed vaccine appointments, and the disproportionate reliance on mass vaccination sites has left appointments unfilled and large portions of our most vulnerable populations unserved,” said the letter, which was dated Friday and led by Rep. Katherine Clark.
The preregistration system — wherein residents could provide relevant information online, over the phone, or in person ahead of time, and then later get notified when they’re eligible to book an appointment — would “help to alleviate these challenges,” lawmakers wrote.
Rep. Richard Neal was the sole delegation member who did not sign on to the letter.
Baker has acknowledged the frustrations with the pace of the rollout, which he has attributed to limited supply, the state’s decision to prioritize highly vulnerable groups, and higher-than-expected reluctance to get the vaccine among those groups.
In a statement Monday night, a spokesperson for the state’s COVID-19 Command Center also noted that the administration has worked to improve the booking process, including a call center and a new website to help residents find vaccination sites.
“The Baker-Polito Administration is offering thousands of appointments each week, especially at mass vaccination sites, and encourages the public to check the website regularly if eligible for a vaccine,” the spokesperson said. “A new online tool, launched on February 12, and the seven-day a week phone hotline for anyone 75 and older who needs to make an appointment, are among the recent improvements to the booking process. Massachusetts will continue to make website enhancements, including additional vaccine appointment locations as the distribution process continues.”
However, in their letter to Baker, lawmakers expressed concern that the lack of a preregistration system had also contributed to the “slow and inequitable deployment of vaccines in Massachusetts, a trend that will only be exacerbated by increased demand as appointments open up to future eligibility groups.”
Similar systems have been established in states like Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, and West Virginia. West Virginia — which, unlike Massachusetts, is a national leader in quickly administering its allotment of vaccine doses — was the first state in the country to set up a pre-registration system through the Burlington-based mass communications company Everbridge.
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers recently filed a bill to launch a preregistration system in Massachusetts, where residents would provide personal information like their age, occupation, and any underlying medical conditions that may give them prioritization under the state’s three-phase vaccine rollout. The proposed system would allow users to provide a ranked number of preferred vaccination sites and then get a notification, once eligible, when appointments open up at that location.
In the letter to Baker, lawmakers say that a preregistration system would eliminate some of the current friction in the multi-step sign-up process and enable the state to match vaccine supply with demand ahead of time. Amid accessibility concerns about the state’s current emphasis on mass vaccination sites, the system would also advance equity efforts, lawmakers wrote, by identifying communities or eligibility groups where additional outreach is needed.
“We recognize that this type of emergency communication system requires funding, and we will continue to fight for federal resources to both scale up vaccine production and help the Commonwealth ensure vaccines are distributed equitably and efficiently,” the group wrote.