Baker: Massachusetts working to improve vaccine website

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker appears with his interpreter for the hearing impaired at the mass vaccination site in Natick February 24, 2021 in a screen shot from his office’s video feed.

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is working to improve its vaccine finder website by creating what he described as a “digital waiting room.”

If there is high traffic on the website, those trying to make a vaccine appointment will be placed in the waiting room area.

“It’s the equivalent of creating a line,” the Republican said during a Wednesday press conference. “It’s designed to basically keep the site running.”

Baker said the improvement should be in place Thursday, when new appointments will become available. Those trying to use the site have experienced frustration with demand for vaccine shots vastly outpacing supply in Massachusetts.

Without an increase in doses from the federal government, it should take about a month to get through the latest phase of those eligible for shots, including individuals 65 years old and older, Baker said.

On Thursday, about 50,000 new appointments will be added at mass vaccination sites, including locations at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, Springfield, Danvers, Dartmouth and Natick.

Retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens will administer another 20,000 doses next week.

The Baker administration also announced a new $4.7 million initiative Wednesday to promote COVID-19 vaccine equity in the 20 communities most disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.

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MASS VACCINATION SITE

Massachusetts’ sixth mass coronavirus vaccination site opened Wednesday in a building once occupied by an electronics retailer.

The site in the former Circuit City facility in Dartmouth is expected to start by administering about 500 shots per day before increasing to about 2,000 daily doses within several weeks.

It joins mass vaccination sites already up and running in Boston, Foxborough, Danvers, Natick and Springfield.

Eligible residents were able to begin booking appointments online for the Dartmouth site on Feb. 18, but Baker warned that not everyone who wants to book an appointment will be able to right away.

The state is only receiving about 130,000 doses per week, while last week one million new people became eligible for the vaccine, he said Tuesday. Residents can learn more about vaccine eligibility in Massachusetts by visiting the state’s vaccine website.

“Everybody can’t get vaccinated at once because we don’t have enough supply,” Baker said. “I think the big challenge we face in terms of dosing more people is 100% a function of how much vaccine we get from the feds.”

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HOSPITAL VACCINATIONS

Many Massachusetts hospitals will begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations again about a week and a half after the state cut off their supply to concentrate on mass vaccination sites, officials said.

State health officials have reached an agreement with 15 hospitals and health systems to resume supplying vaccinations, The Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

The Baker administration’s decision on Feb. 11 to halt vaccine supplies to hospitals was widely criticized.

“The administration understands the important role health systems play in the lives of residents of the commonwealth and as such, the command center worked with the Massachusetts Hospital Association to provide a limited supply of vaccines to select hospitals and health systems,” said Kate Reilly, spokesperson for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center.

In response to the vaccine cutoff, Mass General Brigham started closing most of the health system’s 12 community vaccination sites. Now they are working to keep the clinics open and will book new appointments beginning March 1.

“We got word from the state that they were able to work on their vaccine distribution and that we’d be able to participate again, which we are obviously very happy with,” said Dr. Tom Sequist, chief patient experience and equity officer at Mass General Brigham.