Two years ago, The Daily Hampshire Gazette and I launched the Dear Jo column so that I could address constituent questions in a public forum in the name of transparency, accountability and constituent service.
Twenty-four columns later we’ve tackled everything from climate change to education, but nothing has caused constituents to contact my office with the same urgency as the COVID-19 vaccine.
People are frustrated beyond measure, angry and afraid amid constantly changing information. That’s why today’s column addresses the vaccine rollout, my shared concerns and our team’s work. Let me say first that I’m tremendously grateful to all those in our region who are rallying to meet this crisis moment with the grit, tenacity, care and advocacy that it deserves.
A commitment to equity
Earlier in the COVID crisis, we experienced an inequitable rollout of COVID testing, with concerns around procuring personal protective equipment, ventilators, test supplies, and funding for all of the above.
If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that while the pace and logistics of the vaccine rollout are critical, equally critical is a commitment to equity. This means regional equity to ensure western Massachusetts gets our fair share in a timely way, and equity when it comes to race, ethnicity and class — and communities hit hardest by the virus.
With pace, logistics, and equity in mind, colleagues and I are in daily contact with the state’s COVID-19 headquarters on issues like the amount of vaccine and vaccine locations available in western Massachusetts, necessary measures to break down barriers to access, and more.
The following four updates are what is known presently. My team and I are updating Facebook regularly and always available to answer questions via firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. The Biden-Harris administration has promised a much-needed increase in both production and distribution of vaccines as well as additional funding.
Facing mounting criticism and demands for additional public vaccination sites, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has promised 165 vaccination sites and a capacity for 305,000 vaccines administered per week by mid-February.
So far these vaccination sites are not distributed or resourced equitably across the state, with Hampshire and Franklin counties being particularly disadvantaged. I’m working with state and municipal colleagues to address this. What’s more, we must understand that the state’s overall capacity to administer vaccines is not the same as the number of vaccines available. That number is still far too low and supply is one of the major challenges we’re facing.
2. There is understandable confusion about when and how people will be notified when it’s their turn, where they’ll go, and what they’ll need to do. As information becomes available, find it here. And yes, I agree this website needs to be much easier to navigate, and we must also make information available to all those without internet access.
3. The commonwealth adopted a phased approach to vaccine distribution. As frustrated as we are with the pace and logistics of the rollout, we should recognize the phasing for what it embodies: Respect for front-line medical providers and an acknowledgement of those who are among the most vulnerable or at greatest risk. Again, it’s important that the state be willing to not just name but also reach those with barriers to access.
Phase 2, beginning with individuals 75 and older, starts Monday, Feb. 1. Phase 3 (the general public) is slated to begin in April. Here’s an overview of all three phases.
Please note that Baker announced significant changes to Phase 2 prioritization this week, including news regarding those age 65 and above. You can find the most updated Phase 2 breakdown here.
Phase 2 is off to a very slow start with vaccine shortages in our region. These shortages are, in part, tied to federal supply and in part due to Baker administration decisions around supply. Earlier this week, worried about a vaccine shortage, the state began limiting doses delivered to municipalities and local public health officials to administer. This decision has had serious consequences for our region which must be addressed, especially because we do not have a mass vaccination site – yet.
4. While there is a single website with a map of the vaccination locations across the state, there are still multiple online appointment booking portals with very limited options for booking appointments if you do not have internet access. My team aggregated all of the information for our district, put it on our website, and will keep it updated.
On Thursday, I held a Facebook live briefing on vaccines, the rollout, and what’s happening in our region, featuring Merridith O’Leary, director of public health in Northampton; Kate Kelly, public health nurse in Northampton; Phoebe Walker, director of community services, Franklin Regional Council of Governments and a member of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group; and Tracy Rogers, emergency preparedness program manager at FRCOG.
It’s available here, or email email@example.com and we’ll send you a recording.
State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.
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