How Massachusetts will roll out COVID-19 vaccines

Frontline health care workers, residents of nursing homes and long-term-care facilities, emergency workers, and staff and residents of prisons and homeless shelters will be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts.

At a December 9, 2020, press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said the state plans to distribute more than 2 million doses by the end of March 2021, and that the vaccine will be free to everyone. He said that the timing of the rollout would depend on federal authorizations for the vaccines.

The Baker administration estimates that the first phase of vaccine distribution will run from December 2020 through February 2021. Vaccinations during phase 2—likely from February through April—will include, in order of priority, people with two or more conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, that put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications; early-education, K–12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health workers; adults over age 65; and individuals with one complicating medical condition. The general public will receive vaccines during phase 3, roughly April through June.

In a December 9 WBUR article, Paul Biddinger—director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, and chair of Massachusetts’ vaccine advisory group—said that it could be six to nine months before enough Americans have been vaccinated so that community transmission is no longer a risk. He said that people should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing in the meantime.

“What we know about vaccines is that they dramatically lower your risk of needing hospitalization or dying. They protect you,” Biddinger said. “What we don’t know is whether they completely prevent you from getting a low-level infection or transmitting the illness.”

Biddinger was also interviewed on the WGBH radio show “In It Together” on December 7. He told host Arun Rath that rolling out a vaccine during a pandemic is “unbelievably complicated,” noting that the biggest challenge is finding enough staff—nurses, pharmacists, and others—who can administer the vaccines. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and a faculty member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, also spoke on the program, addressing the recent surge in coronavirus cases and discussing COVID-19 statistics.

Other Harvard Chan experts serving on the state’s vaccine advisory group include Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, and Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

Read the WBUR article: Mass. Vaccine Rollout Plan Will Be In 3 Phases. Here’s When You Could Get Yours

Listen to the WGBH show: In It Together 12/7/20