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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Health and Human Services Secretary MaryLou Sudders met with more than 100 local leaders from across Massachusetts this morning to request their help in standing up local and regional clinics to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
Some 90 weeks into the pandemic, and with case and hospitalization rates rising once again and a new coronavirus variant emerging, the administration remains focused on boosting vaccination rates as the best defense against the disease.
Unlike the initial vaccine rollout early this year, when demand far exceeded a scarce supply that had to be carefully managed, the governor said doses are now readily available, opening the door for local and regional clinics.
“We have a ton of supply — that’s not our problem,” Baker said. “What we’re looking for is additional capacity to administer the vaccine in the Commonwealth. … The good news is, the appetite for boosters among those who are eligible has picked up dramatically.”
He said there are nearly 1,000 locations to get a vaccine in Massachusetts, and between 40,000 and 50,000 shots are now being administered per day, which is “a lot more than we were doing three or four weeks ago.”
“We do believe we could use additional capacity on that,” he said, “because we don’t have a problem with supply and we have seen a big uptick … in booster traffic.”
The administration announced on Nov. 18 that all Massachusetts residents age 18 and older would be eligible to get a COVID-19 booster six months after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two months after receiving a Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. The federal government followed suit the next day.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations allow for mixing and matching different COVID-19 booster doses, and eligible individuals may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster dose.
Since the spring, Massachusetts’ COVID vaccination rate has consistently been among the top three states in the country. Polito said 82% of the state’s adults are fully vaccinated, and 23% have received a booster.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that more than 1 million people in Massachusetts have received their booster vaccine dose, but many residents are now having trouble getting booster and primary series vaccine appointments.
Top DPH officials hold calls twice a week with local boards of health, Sudders said, and a number of clinics are being set up through local health departments. But she said these efforts could use a significant boost from other municipal departments and regional collaborations. Local officials are advised to consider partnering with other communities, schools, councils on aging, or other community groups in order to promote the clinics and increase staff support.
“We need your help,” she said. “You know your communities best.”
For local vaccination clinics, Sudders said vaccines can be ordered through the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, and costs are 100% reimbursable from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, through April 1, 2022.
Sudders asked local officials interested in setting up clinics to contact her chief of staff, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to ensure public awareness, clinics should be posted on vaxfinder.mass.gov.
Baker and Sudders responded to a number of questions from local officials about the availability of COVID testing and any statewide actions that might be taken if the COVID situation worsens.
Sudders noted that the state continues to operate the Stop the Spread testing program and is working to boost testing capacity, with an announcement about a new testing program possibly coming as soon as next week.
Baker touted the state’s first-in-the-nation pooled testing program operating weekly in every school in Massachusetts. Sudders said the program has saved more than 200,000 school days by identifying cases early, and that the individual positivity rate was just 0.37% for the two-week period ending on Nov. 28.
Baker and Sudders expressed frustration that the federal government wasn’t doing more to make at-home testing kits more affordable and easily accessible, without requiring a health insurance reimbursement process. Baker pointed to European models that make tests widely available for about $1 apiece.
Baker said it’s unlikely that the administration would impose statewide measures such as a mask mandate, if conditions worsen, leaving those decisions to local officials based on local conditions.
Sudders said her office is working with other states to develop a “multi-state portal system” that would make the current vaccine card system obsolete and make it easier for people to access their vaccination status and provide verification. She said she expects a program to launch just after the first of the year.
Today’s meeting with top state officials was coordinated by the MMA and co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith, who facilitated the session, was joined by MMA President and Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, Somerville Mayor and Metro Mayors Coalition Chair Joseph Curtatone, and MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen.
Beckwith, Chapdelaine and Curtatone opened the meeting by noting this week’s announcement by Baker and Polito that they would not be seeking re-election, and expressed appreciation for their strong and ongoing partnership with cities and towns.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is hosting two webinars next week, on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9, to provide information for municipalities and groups on the FEMA reimbursement process and eligible expenses. The types of costs eligible for reimbursement, the list of organizations that can participate, and the period for covered expenses have all been expanded since they were originally announced.
For more information about vaccine boosters, visit mass.gov/COVID19Booster.