Medical mecca messes up measures to vaccinate by Marjorie Arons Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

When will we become eligible for COVID immunization? How will we be informed? Where is the state on moving from Phase One to Phase Two? Where will we be able to go to get the vaccine? How do we sign up? What’s the process for scheduling the second shot? You can blame the feds for botching a national response and not getting enough vaccine to the states, but fingers may fairly be pointed at the Baker administration for failing to communicate about the process to expect once the vaccine is available.

We now know that the federal government had no comprehensive plan for distribution, nor did it have the reserves it led the public to assume. But don’t we have a right to know with some precision what the rollout plan is in Massachusetts? Will it be available at local doctors’ offices, community hospitals, pharmacies? Based on our experience with annual flu shots, we know we have the potential capacity, down to the local CVS and Walgreen’s. What is going on?

Most of us take great pride in living in a medical mecca: the most advanced research, the most cutting-edge science, the most sophisticated tertiary care, the teaching hospitals, the globally acclaimed specialists. It’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that, among all the states, the Bay State ranked 32nd this weekend in the percentage of people who have gotten vaccinated. And it’s especially surprising, even shocking, given that the man at the helm, Governor Charlie Baker, had served as Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as Secretary of Administration and Finance. Before becoming governor, he was CEO of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and, for a decade, CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. If anyone were prepared to meet the challenge of vaccine distribution, wouldn’t it be he?

The vaccine distribution has been sluggish even as Baker was loosening restrictions on struggling restaurants, fitness centers and other businesses. All this at a time when more people are worrying about the implications of the variant viruses now extant in the United States. Those mutations were initially thought to be more infectious but not necessarily more deadly. Now word comes from the U.K. that they seem indeed to be more deadly as well. This certainly ups the importance of getting people vaccinated quickly.

My own hometown is still in the yellow, or moderate, zone, but the incidence and positivity rates are creeping up locally. Statewide, last week’s numbers improved slightly over the previous weeks but are still far worse than where we were last fall. And, while friends from New York to Hawaii are getting their shots, just over five percent of Massachusetts residents have been so lucky. It’s downright embarrassing that states led by Covid sceptics, like Texas, South Dakota and Florida, are doing a better job of getting jabs into arms.

We have no central place to register for vaccination, while, according to the Boston Globe, New Mexico set up its online registration in December. Only 43 percent of doses shipped to Massachusetts have been used. Nor apparently did the state get the requisite immunization tracking software installed when it was supposed to. There’s just one central vaccination site (at Gillette Stadium) and another to open at Fenway Park in February. Hints are floated about other sites, some opening up as soon as this week, but no clarity about where or when. The problem goes on and on.

Tuesday night, Charlie Baker will give his annual state-of-the-state address. Let’s hope he leads with hard facts on the vaccine roll-out and details on how the state will meet our needs for the immunizations that can mean the difference between life and death from this galloping pandemic.