The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized the emergency use of two vaccines to prevent COVID-19: one for people 16 years of age and older, and another for people ages 18 and older. (There is no vaccine approved yet for children under age 16.) Both vaccines require two doses per person, roughly three to four weeks apart. Their trials showed that immunity takes effect roughly six weeks after the first dose, though it is unclear how long immunity lasts. Other vaccines are in various stages of development and will likely be approved in the relatively near future.
While this is good news for those hoping for a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we are still a long way off from winning the battle against COVID-19. Vaccine supplies are very limited at the moment, and only certain demographic groups are currently eligible to receive the vaccine.
In the middle of February, Massachusetts announced a change to its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan. Due to supply constraints, it began greatly reducing the supply of vaccines to hospitals and health systems in a temporary measure to consolidate vaccine doses for use at state-run vaccination clinics. All patients who had already scheduled appointments at their hospital or health system will still be able to receive both their first and second vaccine doses at those clinics; they will be able to schedule their second dose at the time of their first appointment. Patients who had not yet scheduled vaccination appointments with their hospital or health system will not be able to schedule any new first-dose COVID-19 vaccination appointments through these organizations at this time, regardless of their eligibility under the state’s vaccine plan. In the event that this situation changes and hospitals and clinics receive additional vaccine shipments in the weeks to come, they will reach out to all eligible patients. More appointments will be made available based on supply from the Federal Government, and will be added on a rolling basis.
The Massachusetts COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan includes three phases, which reflect the priorities of protecting the state’s most vulnerable, maintaining health care system capacity, and addressing inequities in health care access and COVID-19 burden. Phase 1, which began in December 2020, included (in order of priority) clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care, long-term care settings (including assisted living facilities), first responders, congregate care settings, home-based health care workers, and health care workers doing non-COVID-facing care.
Phase 2 began in February 2021 and will run through March 2021. People age 75 and older were eligible first. As of Feb. 18, 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that people ages 65 or older, people ages 16 or older with two or more specific medical conditions (listed here), and residents and staff of low-income and affordable senior housing were now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Group 3 in Phase 2 will include the following individuals: early education/daycare, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, restaurant, and café workers; employees across the food, beverages, agriculture, consumer goods, retail, and foodservice sectors; meatpackers; sanitation, public works, and public health workers; vaccine development workers; food pantry workers and volunteers; Uber/Lyft/ride share services/pharmacy delivery drivers, airline workers, workers in the passenger ground transportation industry, and Massport workers other than police; convenience store workers; water and wastewater utility staff; court system workers (judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, clerks); medical supply chain workers; funeral directors and workers; and shipping port and terminal workers. Group 4 under Phase 2 will include individuals with one certain medical condition. Groups 3 and 4 are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Those whose groups are not specifically listed in either Phase 1 or 2 will be eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 3, which is estimated to be launched in April. The situation is very much in flux, so those interested in receiving a vaccine should check the MA state’s website for recent updates. The MA COVID-19 Command Center has paused making additional clarifications and estimated timelines at this time. They will resume reviewing specific groups and giving updates once Phase 2, Group 2 individuals have received their vaccines and once additional vaccine supplies from the Federal Government have been significantly increased.
Massachusetts residents who are eligible for vaccination because they have two or more of the medical conditions identified by the state do not need copies of medical records or a doctor’s note to confirm they have these conditions, so there is no need to contact their hospital or doctor.
To schedule a vaccination appointment through Massachusetts state and local health care organizations and agencies, visit https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine. This website also includes a vaccine eligibility checker. To find a location and book an appointment in Massachusetts, you can:
• Check the state’s new searchable directory at vaxfinder.mass.gov.
• Call 2-1-1.
• Call 877-211-6277 for assistance.
Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan is running behind schedule due to limited vaccine supply. They are currently in Phase 1b, which means only health care personal needed to preserve critical health care services, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, other patient-facing health care personnel, public safety personnel, COVID-19 response personnel, and Maine residents age 70+ are eligible. Due to insufficient supply, eligibility is pending for the following individuals: Maine residents age 65-69, adults of all ages with high-risk medical conditions, and certain critical front-line workers. Once the vaccine supply increases, Maine will offer vaccination to other individuals. Visit their state website for information about estimated eligibility dates, vaccination sites, number of doses administered, latest updates, and FAQs.
Both Massachusetts and Maine encourage all eligible patients to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The Department of Public Health is not mandating the COVID-19 vaccine; it is a voluntary program. However, it has been shown to be highly effective at preventing illness and is an important tool in the fight against the pandemic.
The vaccine is free. You should bring your insurance card and an ID with your name (if you have them) to your appointment; however, you can still get the vaccine even if you don’t have an ID or insurance. It may take several weeks or more to schedule an appointment because of high demand and very limited vaccine supplies. Continue taking steps to protect yourself and others until it is your turn to get your vaccine. While you wait – and even after you receive your shot – continue wearing your mask, staying at least six feet away from others outside your household, and washing your hands frequently.