By SCOTT JACKSON
Massachusetts will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to the 94,000 residents and staff at various congregate care facilities – including shelters, houses of correction and residential special-education schools – next week.
State officials also announced that residents and workers at certain public and private low-income senior housing developments, such as those operated by local housing authorities, would have access to the vaccine sooner than originally anticipated.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders discussed plans to vaccinate the residents and staff in congregate care settings during a press conference on Wednesday. The residents and staff within congregate care facilities are the fourth group in phase one to have access to the vaccine, following frontline health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities like nursing homes, and first responders.
Baker said the state is prioritizing vaccinations for those in congregate care settings, “because they serve vulnerable populations in densely populated settings, which means are at significant risk of contracting COVID-19.”
“The staff are also high-risk for exposure at these facilities and many of them do amazing work and it is important they are vaccinated to protect themselves and their families,” the governor added.
When asked why a convicted murderer or other inmate would have access to the vaccine ahead of other members of the public, Baker responded that “congregate facilities are congregate facilities,” and that there are “4,500 public employees who work in the state’s correctional system who are every bit as much at risk as the people who are inmates there.”
The governor said vaccinations for correctional staff alone would not be adequate because there a number of other people – including attorneys, advocates and family members – who come and go from the prisons and jails.
“I don’t think you can draw a bright line that says you’re only going to vaccinate one half of a population and not the other when in fact there are other people who do come in and out,” he said.
Congregate care facilities can administer the vaccine in one of three ways. Their own staff can administer the vaccine, provided they meet the criteria to do so; they can partner with a provider, such as a pharmacy or community health care center; or they can use mass vaccinations sites the state will be creating in the coming weeks.
The first such mass vaccination site will open next week at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Baker said his administration is looking to announce additional sites in the coming days.
Two more groups remain in the in first phase of the state’s three-phased plan – home-based health care workers and health care workers doing non-COVID-19 facing care.
Sudders on Wednesday said residents and workers within residences owned by local housing authorities and certain other low-income senior housing developments will now have access to the vaccine in the first step of phase two, along with individuals with two or more comorbidities and those ages 75 and up.
Phase two of the state’s vaccination program is expected to begin in February as originally planned, Baker said.
Other groups included in phase two are certain essential workers – early education and K-12 teachers and staff, public works employees, public health workers and those in the food, agriculture and sanitation fields. Next up would be individuals over the age of 65 followed by individuals with one comorbidity.
The general public would have access to the vaccine in the third and final phase, which could begin in April.