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Rep. Gordon to Baker: Vaccine Priority Should be Local Sites

State Rep. Ken Gordon has written an open letter to Governor Charlie Baker concerning the new practice of vaccinating companions of 75+ residents and the emphasis on getting vaccines to large sites rather than communities.

“While I appreciate and have admired the way you have addressed the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, from a public health and economic impact point of view, I write to share my stringent objection to the ‘Companion Vaccination System’ as it was announced this week,” he wrote. “I believe it is premature, inefficient, and potentially dangerous.”

Rep. Gordon said that local Boards of Health are in need of doses and that local hospitals are no longer booking appointments for vaccinations. He said there seems to be openings at the General Vaccination Sites at places like Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

“The decision to favor the General Vaccination Sites (“GVS”) rather than direct those vaccines to our Board of Health, local hospitals, or other local options, is a mistake,” he wrote.

Gordon said that since this phase of the vaccination focuses on seniors the vaccinations should be given at local locations that are easier for them to access than the big sites.

“Most seniors in my district do not want to travel to Boston, Foxborough or even Natick for vaccinations,” he said. “For several months they have complied with the Administration’s advisories to stay at home to protect themselves from the virus. They are now uncomfortable leaving their home, let alone traveling far away for a vaccination where they expect to be confronted by a crowd of people. It is difficult to convince these seniors to take a trip to a location they may have never visited, and the lack of transportation is just one issue they confront. They are comfortable in their community, with familiar faces among volunteers working with the BOH, or at their health care facility. They are skeptical of what may await at the GVS.”

Gordon added that the local board of health are ready to give out the vaccines.

“Speaking for the towns I represent – Bedford, Burlington, and Wilmington – we are prepared and willing to administer as many doses as can be provided,” he said.

Board of Health Chair Dr. Ed Weiner said the town has been routinely asking for 800 vaccines per week for its Wednesday clinics. The first week of Phase II it only received 100 doses and last week it received none. This week the town is only holding its clinic thanks to a donation of doses from the incoming urgent care provider Convenient MD.

Read Rep. Gordon’s full letter below:

Dear Governor Baker:

While I appreciate and have admired the way you have addressed the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, from a public health and economic impact point of view, I write to share my stringent objection to the ‘Companion Vaccination System’ as it was announced this week. I believe it is premature, inefficient, and potentially dangerous.

I realize you are motivated with the best of intentions, but at a time when our local Boards of Health (“LBOH”) are in desperate need of vaccine and our local hospitals are no longer booking appointments, the decision to favor the General Vaccination Sites (“GVS”) rather than direct those vaccines to our LBOH, local hospitals, or other local options, is a mistake. In December, the Administration issued a well-thought-out plan to administer vaccine first to the health care workers and first responders who keep the rest of us safe. Next would come the oldest groups of seniors followed by 65+ seniors. Your Administration turned to LBOH and hospitals as a partner to administer the vaccine. Speaking for the towns I represent – Bedford, Burlington, and Wilmington – we are prepared and willing to administer as many doses as can be provided.

However, the result of over-reliance on the GVS is that none of these communities have received the doses they requested. The Boards of Health have been limited to 100 per week, and last week Burlington and Wilmington received none. I contacted the Department of Public Health for assurance that these communities would receive doses next week, but that assurance has not been forthcoming.

Most seniors in my district do not want to travel to Boston, Foxborough or even Natick for vaccinations. For several months they have complied with the Administration’s advisories to stay at home to protect themselves from the virus. They are now uncomfortable leaving their home, let alone traveling far away for a vaccination where they expect to be confronted by a crowd of people. It is difficult to convince these seniors to take a trip to a location they may have never visited, and the lack of transportation is just one issue they confront. They are comfortable in their community, with familiar faces among volunteers working with the BOH, or at their health care facility. They are skeptical of what may await at the GVS.

I am also concerned that even for those 75+ seniors who are willing to go to a GVS, the risks inherent in accepting a ride from a non-family member may outweigh the opportunity. While I appreciate that your web site warns seniors from taking rides from strangers, ads have already appeared on Craigslist and similar forums. These drivers offer to pay seniors for the opportunity to become their “companion ticket.” A senior desperate for the chance to visit a grandchild or other family member may accept that offer. More likely, a senior may accept an offer from a neighbor they recognize, but do not know well, unaware of the health of the person, or the driving or even criminal record of that neighbor.

Each time we administer a vaccine to a younger companion, we are taking a dose away from a 75+ senior waiting for that dose. While most of our residents are anxious to receive their vaccines, they know that with patience their group will be reached. With this change in policy, we are forcing seniors 65+ who choose not to visit a GVS and other vulnerable residents to wait that much longer before their turn arrives. Our teachers and COVID-facing workers such a grocery store clerks are risking exposure to the virus every day, but these companion vaccinations will force them to wait longer for a vaccine.

I recognize the complexity of this undertaking. However, I respectfully ask that you reconsider the policy of allowing companion vaccinations until and unless we can fully satisfy the needs of our LBOH and local hospitals. We should prioritize the most vulnerable populations and remove barriers to getting vaccination. Our local health departments and hospitals are trusted resources in our communities. If we can distribute the vaccine to these locations where our seniors are waiting for them, I believe we can vaccinate most of our 75+ seniors and then prioritize other vulnerable populations. This was your previous policy, and it was well thought out. We should return to that plan.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ken Gordon