State offers answers to ease vaccine confusion   

MADELINE HUGHES/Staff photoThe Andover vaccination site at the high school field house gave out 107 vaccines to elderly residents last month, Public Health Director Thomas Carbone said. Under new state rules, the town no longer can host local clinics unless they are put on by an outside organization like the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.

With a million more Massachusetts residents eligible for COVID-19 vaccines now that age restrictions have been eased to allow those 65 and older to receive them, people are able to choose from a few options — that is, if they’re lucky enough to find an appointment.

Mass vaccination sites are set up at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium and the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers for those willing and able to travel. But for people looking to remain closer to home, scheduling can get sticky and became even stickier Monday.

Starting March 1, 20 equity communities throughout the state — locally Lawrence, Haverhill and Methuen — that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 began being treated differently by the Baker-Polito Administration. Residents in those cities now receive perks from the state, including a liaison to act as a “boots on the ground” representative, assisting with bilingual messaging campaigns through Archipelago Strategies Group and Health Care for All. The goal primarily is to overcome vaccine hesitancy, according to COVID Command Center spokeswoman Kate Reilly.

So-called equity communities will also continue to receive vaccine doses from the state earmarked for local clinics, while local clinics in non-equity communities, such as Andover, had to close as of Monday unless they already had vaccines ordered from the state that had not yet been delivered. Andover was allowed to host one last clinic Wednesday after the March 1 deadline because it utilized previously approved doses.

Also, people in non-equity communities may still be able to go to a local clinic hosted by an organization like the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, which receives federal doses that are tracked independently from those supplied by the state.

The reason for the consolidation, according to the state, is to urge the bulk of the population to go to mass vaccination sites and to meet the needs of hard-hit communities.

“The doses allocated for our communities hardest hit by the pandemic are only available for residents in those communities,” Reilly said.

Want to know where to go for your vaccine? Here’s a primer. Keep in mind that all information is subject to change, sometimes daily, and the best bet is to visit mass.gov/covidvaccine for the most current information.

I live in an equity community. Will my local clinic stay open?

It depends on where the doses come from.

Vaccines arrive through two separate pools: state and federal. Community health center doses, like those dispensed through the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, are considered “federal doses.” Those are tracked separately from the 139,000 first “state doses” per week the Biden Administration has agreed to allocate to Massachusetts starting this week.

Here’s an example of how things work in equity cities:

Lawrence is considering opening a city-run clinic at the Arlington School. If that happens, they would draw state doses for Lawrence residents only and be considered a local clinic. That clinic would still receive weekly vaccine doses from the state, and would be able to remain open as long as they administer 85% of the vaccine on hand and report their numbers to the state within 24 hours.

I live outside an equity community. What are my options?

* Travel to a MassVAX site, such as those at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium or the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers.

* Consider getting vaccinated at a Community Health Center, such as those run by Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.

* Look into getting vaccinated at a local pharmacy, which accounts for its doses differently than other vaccination sites do. Walgreen’s and CVS both participate in the Federal Pharmacy Retail Program, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shares a million doses weekly nationwide drawn from a pool only used by pharmacies.

* Visit Lawrence General Hospital to take part in its new Regional Collaborative. Just announced last week, the state’s collaborative program is open to anyone in Massachusetts. Residents may come to Lawrence from anywhere in the state to receive a shot. The LGH collaborative will remain open as long as it continues to serve 750 patients daily at least five days a week and use 85% of the doses made available to the hospital. The LGH regional collaborative runs independently from any other efforts taking place in Lawrence.

 

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