Berkshire residents eager to sign up for their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine Monday found only frustration.
Local vaccine coordinators said they have been unable to set up appointments for newly eligible residents since the state had not sent a confirmation of their next allotment of doses. They typically hear about the next week’s shipment by Thursday.
With no word from Boston by early evening Monday, the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative announced that it would update residents at noon Tuesday at getvaccinatedberkshires.org.
Last week, weather conditions at major vaccine shipping hubs in Memphis, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky., delayed the arrival of more than 135,000 doses to Massachusetts. The state announced that it had received the vaccines Friday.
Leaders of the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative say they do not schedule new clinics until they have confirmation of vaccine shipments from the commonwealth, in order to avoid having to cancel appointments. The time needed to transport doses once allotted also will push back clinics.
Second-dose clinics have continued as planned, said Laura Kittross, director of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association, but the lack of new first doses strictly has curtailed availability for caregivers through the “buddy system.”
“We have been promised our second doses, which are significant, but not any new doses yet,” Kittross said in an email.
“This is causing a lot of issues with those who wanted to accompany a 75+ person to their second appointment, as we do not have the vaccine to vaccinate them this week and they are understandably not happy about that.”
Kittross pointed out that, since an additional 1 million people statewide now are eligible for vaccines, caregivers will be competing with other eligible recipients for appointments once more first doses are available.
“Essentially, only Fenway and Gillette are required to honor the companion appointments,” she said. “Although we would like to if we had the vaccine to do so.”
Only people who transport a senior 75 and older to the clinic are eligible through the buddy system, and they must have an appointment booked on the same day in order to get the shot. The policy was put in place for mass-vaccination sites run by the site, such as Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, but local coordinators also adopted it as demand waned among people 75 and older.
Kittross said that, depending on supply, Berkshire County public clinics might be able to accommodate “at least some” of the people who had booked a caregiver appointment for this week.
“Otherwise, unfortunately, they may indeed fall into a ‘doughnut hole’ of eligibility,” she said. “I think this policy, although certainly well-intentioned, was not well thought out by the state, particularly when they moved on to the next priority groups so quickly afterward.”
Kittross acknowledged the frustration and added that local coordinators still expect the state to be able to open eligibility to the general public by “later this spring.”
The state’s recent decision to halt doses for municipalities that only serve their own residents is not expected to affect the Berkshires, since the county’s three public clinics are operated by a regional collaborative and open to residents statewide. State leaders have said they want to expand capacity at mass-vaccination sites and regional collaboratives.