First Responder Vaccines in Pittsfield

Dr. Alan Kulberg, chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health, readies a dose of COVID-19 vaccine last month, during a clinic for first responders at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. Seniors 75 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase Two of the state’s program.

More health care workers, including those who work with patients in their homes, are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines as of Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced, opening up eligibility to the full suite of priority groups included in the first phase of his three-fold vaccine distribution plan.

Speaking from Gillette Stadium, which opened this week as a vaccination site, Baker said the first phase represents a “commitment to preserving our health care capacity and protecting some of the most vulnerable residents here in the commonwealth and making sure we have an equitable distribution process.”

Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Polito provided an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts on Thursday, announcing that vaccine access is being expanded to the full range of health care workers.

Health care workers involved in pandemic response, first responders, the staff and residents of long-term care facilities and congregate care sites like shelters, prisons and group homes have already been able to receive the shots.

The newly eligible groups include personal care attendants; home health and hospice workers’ nurses and others who perform home visits; dentists; medical and nursing students; physical therapists; hospital interpreters; behavioral health clinicians; blood donation workers; podiatrists; substance use disorder treatment program staff; asthma and allergy specialists; school nurses; clergy members who work with patients; acupuncturists and more, according to a state website that provides more details on each phase of the vaccine plan.

“The decision to immediately begin vaccinating more than 100,000 home health aides and personal care attendants (PCAs) will protect some of the most vulnerable frontline health care workers and their mostly-elderly, chronically ill or disabled clients in private homes across the commonwealth,” said Tim Foley, executive vice president of the health care workers union 1199SEIU. “Home health aides and PCAs are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. By serving elderly, ill or disabled patients in their own homes, they take an enormous burden off our severely strained hospital and long-term care facilities and their staffs while making certain that our most vulnerable population receives high-quality care without being exposed to trips into the community.”

Massachusetts Dental Society President MaryJane Hanlon thanked the administration for opening up the vaccine distribution, noting that dental teams are “health care professionals who make their livelihoods within inches of patients’ mouths and potentially infectious aerosols” and have the “prowess at providing injections” to help with vaccination efforts once they are inoculated themselves.

Baker encouraged anyone who falls into the vaccine distribution plan’s first phase to find a vaccine site near them and get the shots.

“Phase One is now for all intents and purposes open, and we’ll have more to say about when we think the eagle will land on Phase Two the beginning of the week when we hear a little more about the pipeline,” Baker said.

The second of the three vaccine-distribution phases, envisioned to start at some point next month, includes individuals with multiple conditions that put them at high risk of COVID-19 complications, people age 65 and older, workers in sectors including early and K-12 education, transit, grocery, utilities, public health and the court system, among others.

Baker said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in the new Biden administration about vaccines since Wednesday’s inauguration, and most of the conversations before President Joe Biden and his team took office “were really around this whole issue of visibility into the pipeline.”

Having insight into vaccine availability status at the federal level gives the state an idea of when it can expand distribution, the governor said.

“At this point in time, the major message we got at this point in transition is to expect at least what we got the last few weeks, which is around 80,000 doses a week,” Baker said. “The Biden administration has talked about 100 million doses in 100 days. That would be about a 25 percent increase from the 800,000 doses that are currently in people’s arms on a daily basis” nationally.

Baker said he expects the new White House to have a “much better appreciation about what the pipeline looks like” over the next 10 days to two weeks, and then hopefully pass that information along to states and providers. Over that same time period, Baker said, people should expect to see “a lot more site infrastructure in Massachusetts.”

The state currently has 150 vaccine sites, he said, including the large-scale operation at Gillette Stadium. A second mass vaccination site, at Fenway Park, is slated to open Feb. 1.

He said 825,650 doses of vaccine have been shipped to providers here as of the end of Wednesday, and 377,459 of those doses have been administered.

“We can’t plan to build infrastructure if we don’t know what’s coming,” Baker said later in the day at a Statehouse press conference, where he announced a 9:30 p.m. business curfew will lift Monday. “Generally speaking our visibility into what we can expect is one week. That makes it hard to draw conclusions about how far you can go beyond that process.”

At both events, Baker said that if additional vaccines — a two-dose version from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine — win federal approval, the additional manufacturers could significantly expand capacity for what the federal government is able to distribute and what states are able to administer.