Vaccine hell in Massachusetts
The scene at Greater New Bedford Community Health Center Thursday afternoon, Feb 18, 2021. [ Jack Spillane ]
On the first day of vaccine eligibility for those over 65-years old, by 1 a.m. there was not an appointment to be found in Greater New Bedford. Everything was booked.
By 8 a.m. the state’s whole reservation system had crashed, despite Charlie Baker’s reputation as a systems expert.
With over a million people becoming eligible for COVID salvation all at once after a year of living at home, the frustration among the general public was palpable.
“We’ve all had it with living this way,” said Cheryl Bartlett, executive director of Greater New Bedford Community Health Center.
Many of the local politicians were hiding.
Mayor Jon Mitchell, just days after the Baker administration shut down Southcoast Health from providing its own vaccines, had nothing to say. Ditto for state Sen. Mark Montigny.
State Rep. Tony Cabral stepped up to the plate with a prepared statement that at least acknowledged the problem.
The statement was too wonky to quote but it acknowledged the tech didn’t work and the problem with over-reliance on computers to communicate with the public.
Bartlett said that GNBCHC, which serves a low-income, disenfranchised population, said they knew that the computer is not the way to serve their population.
“We learned that early on,” she said,
She doesn’t think mega-vaccination sites like Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park are the way to go either.
“I think there should be more smaller vaccine sites,” she said.
Low-income, disenfranchised people are not the only ones challenged to make vaccine reservations online. And low-income, disenfranchised populations are not the only ones who don’t want to go to a mega-vaccination site.
Even if it’s the former Circuit City store at the Dartmouth strip mall.
Halfway through the day, the state’s website said that Circuit City was the only local center taking reservations but if you followed through the online prompts, it wasn’t. There were two lonely cars in front of the building around 2 p.m.
The scene at the former Circuit City in Dartmouth Thursday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2021. [ Jack Spillane ]
Meanwhile, GNBCHC learned Wednesday that they will be one of only 250 sites around the country that will receive vaccines directly from the federal government.
They’ve done a good job using up all the vaccines they’ve received so far and have been recognized, Bartlett said.
Anything that would allow you to avoid Baker’s rigid bureaucracy seems a blessing.
Bartlett said they didn’t adhere strictly to the state’s phases for distribution.
When they first got the vaccines, and they had gone through everyone on their priority list of health-care providers, they went on to who was next on the list, which they had prepared ahead of time. In that case in Phase 1 it was first responders and then people living in congregate settings, including homeless shelters.
“I didn’t get hung up on the rigid boxes, this person is not in this group. This week it’s not this people. I decided not to get boxed in,” she said.
She said she simply was not going to leave 150 doses of vaccine sitting in refrigerators while people were going out on ambulance runs to people who may have had COVID.
“It worked really well,” she said. GNBCHC has distributed every bit of vaccine they had been given.
Bartlett, who used to head up DPH, said she understands the state’s challenge and that the biggest problem has not been their fault, it’s been the lack of vaccines from the federal government.
That’s definitely a problem. But it’s not the whole problem in Massachusetts.
The state has blown it.
Its overly-centralized system is clamping down on local healthcare providers that had at least developed a distribution system that people could understand. And they did it in favor of a website that predictably would not work and mega-vaccine centers that are off-putting to folks wondering who to trust.
Baker said yesterday that his hair was on fire with frustration and Cabral said the Legislature will hold hearings on the state’s roll-out next week.
But the governor was just doing political theater, playing to the cheap seats saying he’s going to have the National Guard go to D.C and get the vaccine. And the public is not in the mood for legislative hearings.
They want the state’s system fixed yesterday.