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The distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines was the central topic of a regular conference call with state officials and 200 municipal CEOs convened by the MMA on Jan. 5.
While initial doses are being administered to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, with emergency first responders next in line beginning on Jan. 11, state officials acknowledged that the vaccine plan is continually being adjusted and that they’ll use the early rounds to help solidify plans for larger populations.
“We’re sharing information as quickly as it’s developed and can be shared,” said Jana Ferguson, assistant commissioner at the Department of Public Health. “It’s just moving very fast. Why people haven’t been hearing a lot is because things are rolling out as we go.”
Ferguson and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito urged local officials to monitor several key online resources:
• When Can I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
• COVID-19 Vaccine Details and Locations for First Responders
• COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions
• COVID-19 Vaccine Plan for Massachusetts
• Weekly COVID-19 Vaccination Report (updated each Thursday by 5 p.m.)
Ferguson stressed that the situation is evolving and the DPH is updating these websites on a rolling basis. The When Can I Get the Vaccine website lists a wide range of population groups, from COVID-facing health care workers to EMS personnel to the general public.
The DPH has set up a designated and staffed email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – for vaccine-related questions, particularly to address questions about groups that aren’t specified in the “When Can I Get” listing.
Due to complicated storage and handling requirements, Ferguson said the vaccine is being allocated in manageable amounts on a rolling basis to ensure that no doses are wasted. She assured local officials that all needs will be met – for first responders, for example – though perhaps not in an initial batch.
Polito outlined three options for the state’s 45,000 first responders to receive the vaccine:
• Qualifying departments may request to administer the vaccine at their sites (provided they have the equipment to safely store doses).
• First responders may schedule an appointment at one of more than 60 sites around the state.
• First responders may use one of the sites the state will be setting up over the next two weeks.
Polito said nearly 117,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered as of Jan. 3, and a total of 287,000 doses had been shipped to health care providers. She said 74 of the state’s 76 hospitals had begun administering vaccines to COVID-facing staff.
She said the Vaccine Advisory Group continues to make adjustments to its plans, “and there’s a process for that.” For example, the group this week moved up individuals age 75 and older and individuals of any age with two or more comorbidities.
Polito stressed the transparent nature of the process and said the weekly report offers a broad range of data, such as vaccine distribution by county and age and ethnicity of those vaccinated.
She also discussed the DPH’s revamped COVID Daily Dashboard, which is now more user-friendly and enables visitors to filter data.
On the gathering and capacity rollbacks that took effect on Dec. 26 and were expected to last until at least Jan. 10, Polito said there would be more information coming this week.
Polito recognized that the COVID restrictions create a hardship for businesses, and cited the administration’s new $668 million business relief package, to be administered by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, as an effort to lessen the impact. A $50 million grant round was awarded in December, and another $67 million was awarded on Dec. 31.
The business relief package consists of two programs: a recapitalization of the first small business relief program, which launched in October, and additional funding for businesses that fall into specific industry sectors. A program overview for the sector-specific program is available online.
The application period for the new program will run from Dec. 31 through Jan. 15.
Businesses that already applied to the MGCC’s first small business relief program from October do not need to reapply to the new program. All applications in the existing program are currently being reviewed.
For more information, visit www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org/covid-19-response.
Heath Fahle, special director for federal funds at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, discussed the new federal coronavirus relief package, which was signed into law on Dec. 27 and extended by one year the deadline for using Coronavirus Relief Fund allocations provided through the CARES Act – from Dec. 30, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021.
The conference call was the 28th Zoom meeting of high-level state officials and municipal CEOs since the pandemic began in March.
• Audio of Jan. 5 call with administration (38M MP3)