A statewide push to vaccinate the approximately 25,000 homebound residents in Massachusetts who still have not received doses will begin next week, enlisting scores of local health departments to help reach those who cannot access the immunization, the Baker administration announced Thursday.
The homebound vaccination effort will kick off Monday, using local offices and a centralized service run by the nonprofit Commonwealth Care Alliance. Baker administration officials already have tested it in a “soft launch” this week.
In 168 cities and towns, local boards of health will administer vaccines to their residents. A statewide service operated by the Commonwealth Care Alliance will assist residents in the other 181 municipalities, including in Berkshire County.
Homebound residents or their loved ones can call 833-983-0485 to begin the process of scheduling an in-home vaccine appointment. The line will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., available in English and Spanish and with translators available for other languages.
“The homebound program is another example of how we’re working to bring the vaccine to residents so that, for whatever reason, if they need more support to access vaccines, we can work with our collaborative partners to make it available,” Gov. Charlie Baker said at a Thursday news conference.
Individuals who face significant difficulties getting to a pharmacy, health care center or one of the state’s mass-vaccination sites, those who require an ambulance or two-person assistance to leave home, and those who could not leave home for medical appointments before COVID-19 will qualify to receive doses where they live.
Those who are not eligible to receive a shot at home will be connected instead with other resources such as the 2-1-1 call center to schedule a vaccine appointment.
Doses will be administered by medical professionals, and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said officials will use the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for homebound individuals, which is “easier to transport, requires no ultra-cold storage temperatures, and requires only one appointment.”
Federal officials recently informed the Baker administration that it will send Massachusetts a one-time allocation of 40,800 J&J doses next week, of which about 10,000 will go to in-home vaccinations, Sudders said.
“It just seemed like the right time,” Sudders said of launching the at-home effort. “We needed J&J. J&J is one of the things that gives the ability to just roll this out, and up until this point, we’ve had a limited amount of J&J, but this bonus of 41,000 that’s coming in for next week, one time, really allows us to implement the homebound program.”
In the past five weeks, CCA has administered doses to more than 500 of its homebound members and will now work to expand its efforts, CCA Vice President of Clinical Services Kelli Barrieau said at the news conference.
Municipal health departments will play a central role in the homebound campaign for the 168 communities where they will offer shots. Their deployment comes after some municipal officials and state lawmakers criticized the Baker administration for not embracing disaster plans developed by local health officials before the pandemic hit.
“Local boards of health have been partners in the fight against COVID, and their close relationship with their communities make them uniquely well-equipped to support homebound vaccination,” Baker said Thursday.
For the week from March 22 to March 29, Massachusetts received 330,000 first and second vaccine doses from the federal government, 7,900 of which are the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. The federal government also directed about 140,000 additional vaccines directly to pharmacies and community health centers.
Massachusetts began the next segment of its vaccine rollout Monday, when eligibility expanded to residents 60 and older and certain groups of essential workers.
Those 55 and older or with one underlying health condition putting them at greater risk from COVID-19 will become eligible April 5, and everyone else in the general public can begin booking appointments starting April 19.