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Mass. Vaccine Rollout

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What To Know About Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution In Mass.

Traducido por El Planeta Media, en español aquí.

Massachusetts has most recently opened vaccine appointments for residents 65 and older, people with some serious health conditions and those who live in low-income senior housing.

The state is offering coronavirus vaccinations in three phases, starting with people needed to care for the sick and those considered most at risk for severe illness or death.

Here’s what we know about how the rollout is working, and when each group will be able to get vaccinated. (This post will be updated as new distribution details emerge.)


Virtually all states began with the same top priorities: health care workers and nursing home residents. From there, many states added older residents, aged 65 and up.

Not Massachusetts. In phase one, it vaccinated many of what Gov. Charlie Baker called hard to reach, vulnerable groups before all seniors, such as shelter residents and prisoners.

Phase two began with residents age 75 and older. Friends and family members who bring them to an appointment can also be vaccinated at some clinics, including the state's seven mass vaccination sites and community health centers.

Group two of phase two are now eligible. This includes: residents 65 and older; residents and staff of low-income senior housing; and people who have at least two health conditions that put them at increased risk for severe COVID-19. Baker says it could be mid-March or later before everyone in this group of more than one million residents who wants to be vaccinated can get an appointment because there isn’t enough vaccine to meet demand.

Essential workers are group three in phase two. The state has not said when they will become eligible or whether it will prioritize within this group.

In phases two and three, Massachusetts has pledged to send 20% more vaccines to communities with the highest infection rates.

Here’s the map of public vaccination sites. Community health centers are booking appointments for their patients and the public in areas they serve, as are some hospitals. Not all of the sites run by hospitals and community health centers are on the public map.

The Baker administration expects that all Massachusetts residents age 16 and older will be offered the vaccine during phase three, which is scheduled to begin in April. The state’s higher education workforce is in phase three, as are veterinarians.

A timeline of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts. (Courtesy Mass.gov)
A timeline of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts. (Courtesy Mass.gov)

How will I know when I’m eligible to get vaccinated?

The state is updating its vaccination distribution plans on this site. You’ll find detailed descriptions of everyone who is eligible in each phase. You might want to sign up for the state’s COVID-19 and vaccine alerts. Some hospitals, health centers and physicians may notify patients when they become eligible.

How do I sign up? 

You must make an appointment and register in advance. Tap or click the location on the state’s map for registration and eligibility information. Health officials ask that you do not sign up at more than one place. Seniors who need help can call 2-1-1. Many senior centers are calling local residents to help them sign up. (Here are some useful tips from Massachusetts residents on how to sign up for an appointment.)

Where will I get the vaccine?

The state has about 180 public vaccination clinics, including seven mega sites at Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, the Double Tree Hilton Hotel in Danvers, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, the Natick Mall and a former Circuit City in Dartmouth. Some cities and towns have regional clinics. Smaller sites include standalone pharmacies and those inside grocery stores, schools, municipal buildings, churches and physician offices.

Thirteen hospitals have public vaccination clinics. The state’s two largest hospital networks, Mass General Brigham and Beth Israel Lahey Health, are vaccinating their patients so if you have been treated within these facilities you may be offered an appointment there.

Do I have to prove that I’m eligible?

Vaccination sites may ask for a work-issued ID or a letter from your employer for people eligible in phase one. Home care workers and patients with two or more high risk conditions are asked to sign this form, confirming that you are eligible. Residents, perhaps in consultation with their doctors, will decide if their health conditions qualify.

You will be asked to show a driver’s license or another government issued photo ID and your insurance card, if you have one, when you arrive at the vaccination site.

What happens at the vaccination clinics?

You will be screened for the coronavirus. If you don't have symptoms, and you haven’t been in close contact with anyone who is positive, you may be asked for your identification.

You’ll get the shot.

You’ll be observed in a waiting area for 15 minutes in case you have a rare, immediate adverse reaction, or 30 minutes if you have a history of allergic reactions.

You’ll leave with a card or certificate that indicates which vaccine you received, when and where. You may be asked for this when it’s time for your second dose. And you may need the final certificate to prove you’ve been vaccinated if the shots are required by employers or airlines, for example, at some point.

Vaccination cards handed out to patients at a local clinic. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Vaccination cards handed out to patients at a local clinic. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

How will I know when to return for a required second dose?

Massachusetts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control will use your name and contact info to remind you when to get a second dose and of which vaccine. They use anonymous data about where you live and your race to track who’s getting the vaccine, and who’s not.

Will I be able to choose which vaccine I get?

This is not likely in the early phases. And experts say the first two available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, are similarly effective. Just before March began, the FDA and CDC gave the greenlight for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, making it the third vaccine to receive authorization in the U.S. This may mean that eventually people can select which vaccine they receive.

How will people be monitored for side effects?

The CDC has created an app called V-Safe where you can post information about mild side effects. Someone from the CDC may call you to discuss your reactions. If the headache, fever, nausea or chills persist, you should call your doctor or the vaccination clinic. (The app will also send reminders about a second vaccine dose, if needed.)

More serious side effects should be reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Can I still get infected after I’ve been vaccinated?

Researchers say, maybe. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine trials looked at whether the shots protected recipients against developing the disease, COVID-19, not whether the vaccines prevent transmission of the virus. So you may still become infected and spread the virus even after you’ve been vaccinated. The bottom line for now: You’ll still have to wear a mask and keep a safe physical distance in public even after you’ve been vaccinated.

How much will I be charged for a vaccine?

Your tax dollars are paying for the vaccines. The Baker administration says vaccine providers will not be allowed to turn anyone away and that health insurers have agreed not to charge members for the cost of administering vaccines — that means no fees, co-payments, co-insurance or payments toward your deductible.

Are the vaccines mandatory?

The vaccines will not be mandatory at first. In the future, employers, schools and government bodies may require vaccinations.

How many people will Mass. be able to vaccinate?

That depends on supply. As of late-February, the state is receiving 139.000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each week. The Baker administration says it has the capacity to administer more than twice that amount. The governor has said he is hopeful Johnson and Johnson doses will "dramatically boost" the work to get shots in arms. Unlike the other two available vaccines, that one does not require the same kind of cold storage and is only a single shot. The state estimates there are more than 600,000 people in phase one and more than 2 million people in phase 2 who qualify for inoculation. By April, Massachusetts expects to start offering shots to all residents age 16 and older, a total of more than four million residents.

The Baker administration estimates these three phases will cover 80% of the state’s population. Vaccine trials that include adolescents age 12 to 18 are underway. They could be offered the shots this fall, iIf results show the vaccines are safe.

How can I learn more about vaccine safety?

For more about side effects, what to do if you're pregnant, and what you need to think about before you visit someone who has only received a first dose, read this vaccine FAQ from NPR.

Why did the state start with health care workers and nursing homes?

Massachusetts like most states began with health care workers to protect the staff caring for COVID patients. Staff and residents of long-term care facilities are at the top of the list because they are especially vulnerable to infection, serious illness and death from the coronavirus. As of late January, more than half of all COVID deaths in Massachusetts have been long-term care residents.

Hospitals began vaccinating staff on Dec. 14. Eligible employees included doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and lab technicians in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, as well as people who disinfect rooms. Vaccinations for front-line staff at community health centers, coronavirus testing sites and vaccinators followed. CVS and Walgreens began vaccinating the staff and residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and rest homes on Dec. 28.

Here are more details for phase one, which has six subgroups. 

The first front-line health care workers began receiving the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December. Long-term care residents and staff followed in late December. Clinics for the third group, first responders (including police, fire and EMTs), opened on Jan. 11.

People who live in large group settings (like prisons, homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers and group homes) are the fourth priority group in phase one. Home care workers and health care workers who do not deal directly with COVID patients, such as dentists, blood and organ donation employees and behavioral health providers are the final residents eligible in phase one. Everyone in phase one became eligible for the vaccine as of Jan. 21, 2021.

Details on phase one priority groups. (Courtesy Mass.gov)
Details on phase one priority groups. (Courtesy Mass.gov)

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Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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Mass. Vaccine Rollout