Berkshire Eagle panel on COVID-19 vaccine FAQs: 2/25/2021
Who is eligible?
Everyone in Phase One and the first two subsets of Phase Two are eligible. That includes: health care workers, both COVID-facing and otherwise; home health workers; first responders; staff and residents of congregate care facilities; incarcerated people and prison and jail staff; seniors 65 and older; people with two or more qualifying comorbidities; and residents and staff in low-income senior housing.
Vaccines are for anyone who lives, works or studies in Massachusetts. They are provided free for everyone, regardless of insurance status, and will not impact your immigration status. Find a more detailed eligibility list here.
How will I know when new appointments are posted?
New appointment announcements for the county will be posted at least 6 to 12 hours in advance at getvaccinatedberkshires.org, according to local organizers. Clinics often are updated Thursdays, when county vaccine officials get their weekly allocations from the state.
You can find vaccine appointments directly at maimmunizations.org. The state has recently updated its PrepMod software to create a "waiting room." Local officials say the change means that, once you are able to make an appointment, the software will save your place in line while you enter your personal information. It will speed the process up if you have your information on hand before going to register, including insurance details.
Check mass.gov/covidvaccinemap to see which local pharmacies giving vaccines. While pharmacies often have fewer appointments and have experienced some registration hiccups, some county residents have successfully made first and second dose appointments this way.
I got a clinic link forwarded to me via email. Should I sign up?
There are separate registration processes for first and second dose clinics. First dose clinics show up on maimmunizations.org, while second dose clinic links go out directly via email.
If you register through an emailed link, even if that link takes you directly to maimmunizations.org, there is a very good chance you are signing up for a second dose clinic.
"They will eventually get an email telling them they won’t be vaccinated and their appointment is being cancelled," said Laura Kittross of the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative. "But it’s taking us a long time to get to those now, so they may not hear until right before, and in the meantime they will lose the opportunity to sign up for a valid slot. People should NOT use private links sent to others."
How do you know if it's a second dose clinic? Remember that local coordinators usually open just 1 week worth of first dose slots. A clinic scheduled for two weeks out, therefore, is probably a second dose clinic.
If you have made an appointment at a second dose clinic, coordinators urge you to cancel to keep those slots open for people who need their second dose.
If you are unsure whether you have signed up for a first or second dose clinic, call your local council on aging.
I got my first dose, but I haven't received a registration link for my second yet.
Don't worry! Second dose clinic links typically go out shortly after the first dose clinic but may take more time. If you get within five days of your second dose date with no word on a clinic, call your local council on aging. Before that, be patient.
What counts as a comorbidity?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a list of conditions proven to put individuals at higher risk for severe disease and death. The state uses a slightly modified version of that list.
The conditions that qualify in Massachusetts are: cancer; chronic kidney disease; COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); Down syndrome; heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies; immunocompromised state from solid organ transplant (but not from other conditions); obesity and severe obesity (BMI of 30 or higher); pregnancy; sickle cell disease; smoking (both present and former cigarette smokers); Type 2 diabetes mellitus; asthma (moderate to severe).
Will I need to show proof that I am eligible?
If you are eligible because of your age, your ID will serve as proof. If you are eligible because you have two or more comorbidities, you should fill out the state’s self-attestation form. You can print this form out or bring a digital copy. Recipients also will be allowed to fill the form out on-site.
You will not need to show proof of residence. Second homeowners, part-time residents and anyone who currently resides in the state is eligible, and you will not be asked to show that you live here.
Does that mean people can cheat the system?
In theory, yes.
Local vaccine coordinators have asked residents to respect the severe risks facing people who currently qualify and wait their turn.
Self-attestation systems allow the state to balance rollout priorities with the demand for efficiency, according to Carmel Shachar, executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.
“If we built a system that tried to maximize getting things correct, it would really slow down the process,” Shachar said. “I think what the state is trying to do is to say, ‘We don't want a complete free-for-all … we have reasons why we've flagged these groups and we do want them to get priority. But, we also understand that we don't have the capacity to verify everybody's claims in a reasonable amount of time.’”
Shachar said the penalty of perjury clause on the attestation form also gives the state recourse for people who lie.
How long will it take us to get through the current part of Phase Two?
Across the commonwealth, about 1 million people become eligible in this subphase, and the state has estimated that it could take more than a month for everyone who needs an appointment to sign up. Timing depends on supplies from the federal government.
If authorized for emergency use, the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine could effectively double the state's weekly vaccine allocation, local coordinators tell The Eagle. The state is currently receiving about 135,000 doses a week.
Locally, there are an estimated 16,000 people ages 65 to 74, not including second-home owners and temporary residents. Vaccine coordinators do not have an estimate of the number of people with two or more comorbidities, or how long it will take to finish the stage.
Does the “buddy system” still apply?
The "buddy system" allows one caregiver to get vaccinated along with a person 75 or older, if they transport that person to certain public clinics. The policy remains in effect, but only for that age group, according to the state.
In the Berkshires, caregivers are still eligible but must compete with other eligible residents to make appointments, local coordinators say. You will be able to note that you are transporting a senior to the clinic as one of the eligibility options.
What if I can’t get to a site?
If you are a Berkshire County resident with a disability, you can reach out to AdLib, a Pittsfield-based nonprofit that is offering no-cost transportation to vaccination sites in collaboration with County Rainbow Taxi. Call 413-281-7328, and the company will give your name to County Rainbow Taxi. This is only for residents with disabilities.
Other residents with transportation or registration issues can call Berkshire Mutual Aid at 413-591-0611 or email them at HelpingBerkshiresVaccinate@gmail.com.
What should I bring to and expect from my appointment?
Bring identification and your self-attestation form. Wear a short-sleeve shirt or loose-fitting sleeves. Expect any lines to move quickly, as they have at previous clinics. Local coordinators have asked recipients not to arrive more than 10 minutes early, especially those with morning appointments, to avoid creating lines.
There will be wheelchairs available, chairs to wait in and greeters helping you navigate through the process. You will be asked to wait 15 minutes after the shot, or 30 minutes for people with a history of severe anaphylaxis, at socially-distanced stations.
Where are the clinics?
The county’s public clinics are:
St. Elizabeth’s Church, 70 Marshall Street, North Adams
Berkshire Community College Field House, West Street, Pittsfield
W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School, Monument Valley Road, Great Barrington
Local pharmacies also offer vaccinations and can be found at mass.gov/covidvaccinemap, along with clinics available outside of Berkshire County.
Why is there no "mass vaccination site" in the Berkshires?
"Mass vaccination" is a designation given to large-scale clinics operated by the state. The Berkshires have large-scale, general sites that are run by local coordinators and open to anyone in the state, so they function similarly. Local coordinators say capacity to deliver doses is not an issue at the moment. The Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative currently has the capacity to give upwards of 3,000 vaccines each day across its three sites – if supplies became available.
The state has focused its efforts on mass vaccination sites and regional collaboratives, which include the Berkshire collaborative, in order to increase efficiency. Some critics say that prioritizing large-scale sites makes it harder to reach vulnerable populations, such as those who are vaccine-hesitant and the homebound.
I have more questions, where should I go?
The following information sources also are available:
• The city of Pittsfield is providing access by phone to regular updates about access to the vaccine in the city and in Berkshire County. A recorded message is posted at 413-449-5575.
• A statewide call center is available to help people schedule vaccination appointments. The hours for the call line are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The help line is available by calling 2-1-1.