“I called my primary care office and they did not hear anything. I called the nurse in town and she does not know. I have asked and asked and asked, ”said McQuilken, who wrongly remarked that he was able to ask because“ when you are in the 75+ group, you are in contact with medical people. ”
Tens of thousands of elderly Massachusetts residents are in the same place as McQuilken. The second phase of the Baker administration’s vaccine rollout, which includes seniors, was linked to February in a schedule released last month. People aged 75 and over must be in front of the line.
But government officials first announced last week̵
This in turn could delay the immunization of the 450,000 high-risk residents over 75 – nearly tripling the number of residents vaccinated since the state’s rollout began last month. And a recommendation issued Tuesday by the Trump administration urging states to immediately begin vaccinating all Americans as young as 65 could make the state’s job even harder. Governor Charlie Baker said the state would ask its COVID-19 advisory panel to consider whether the age limit should be lowered to 65 for the next round of vaccinations.
Seniors and their advocates say the delay in vaccinations for domestic workers already increases the risk of resident residents relying on them for help bathing, dressing and preparing meals. “These employees are out in the community and need to be vaccinated as soon as they can,” said Lisa Gurgone, CEO of Mass Home Care, which provides services to about 60,000 resident seniors across the state.
Access to the vaccine strongly depends on where older residents live. Those in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities are already being vaccinated. But residents over the age of 75 living in low-income senior apartments run by public housing authorities and some non-profit organizations are waiting to learn when and where they will be vaccinated. Many have been cooped up in their apartments for several months and have experienced physical and cognitive decline.
“You have this patchwork approach,” said Andrew DeFranza, CEO of Harborlight Community Partners, a nonprofit organization that operates half a dozen subsidized senior housing in Beverly, Rockport and Ipswich. “These are very fragile, very vulnerable people who live in affordable senior housing but are not yet eligible to receive vaccines.”
Government officials directed the first vaccine transports to hospitals and long-term care facilities, places with staff qualified to administer vaccines. But logistics became more complex this week as the state designated 119 smaller and more scattered locations, including schools and senior centers, to inoculate first responders such as police, firefighters and medical technicians. Some of these sites can also be used for seniors and the general population when the rollout expands.
The challenges will increase again when injections begin for those over 75 residents living independently or in senior housing not covered by Phase 1 vaccinations, a group larger than the first three combined. And the pressure to increase the pace of vaccinations is rising.
“Everyone feels we can not get it fast enough,” said Elissa Sherman, president of Leading Age Massachusetts, which represents aging service providers and nonprofit senior housing companies. Older adults have their shoulders on [pandemic] burden for 10 long months now and everyone is eager to get the vaccine as soon as possible. ”
Baker said Tuesday that Gillette Stadium in Foxborough has been utilized as the state’s first regional “mass vaccination site.” The site is operated by CIC Health, where Brigham and Women’s Hospital acts as medical director, and Fallon Ambulance supports the staff, the governor said.
Vaccinations of first responders start there Thursday and initially serve about 300 people a day, but eventually ramp up to about 5,000 a day and “potentially much larger numbers than that over time,” Baker said.
The governor said his administration, which had administered 141,000 vaccine doses since Thursday last year, is moving to speed up the rollout of the vaccine. But he said the hinges on vaccine allocations are coordinated by the federal government, giving states short notice of when the doses will be sent.
“We’re moving as fast as the distribution plan is moving,” Baker said. Last Thursday, the state had reported receiving 328,000 doses, not nearly enough to advance to the next vaccination phase.
The new federal recommendation could complicate what is already a daunting task for Massachusetts officials by making an additional 560,000 residents ages 65 to 74 eligible for vaccinations at once. Baker said his COVID-19 advisory committee would look into the plan, though other governors, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said they would drop eligibility to 65 years.
Some public health experts questioned how realistic the Trump administration’s proposal is given the slow pace of rollout so far and the many barriers to vaccinations.
“At the moment, the country is not close to vaccinating all of them in the first set of priority groups,” said Dr. Howard Koh, professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Health in the Obama administration. “We need much more detailed information on whether available vaccine doses can then also meet the need to cover people over the age of 65.”
Residents over the age of 75 living in nursing homes and care centers have already received their first vaccine shot through a federal pharmacy partnership contracted with CVS and Walgreens to run on-site clinics. Pharmacy companies have also started clinics this week on rest homes as well as some private senior housing and retirement communities, where residents have access to multiple levels of care on a single campus.
“As soon as people are vaccinated, we open up society again. People are hungry for it, ”said Amy Schectman, president of 2Life Communities, who said residents were mostly confined to their rooms at her organization’s subsidized senior housing in Brighton, Brookline, Newton and Framingham.
But residents of other affordable housing units, including those run by more than 200 public housing authorities, were not given the option to sign in with the federal pharmacy program – and they do not know why.
“Our residents are some of the oldest with the lowest incomes in the state and they have yet to be placed on a schedule where they can be vaccinated and return to some normality,” said David Hedison, CEO of the Chelmsford Housing Authority and President The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Renevelopment Officials. “All seniors in subsidized housing must receive the vaccine.”
Martin Finucane from the Globe staff contributed to this story.
Robert Weisman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.