PEABODY — The city will not be administering the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone this week, according to Mayor Ted Bettencourt. The city will only receive enough doses from the state to provide second shots to some of the locals who received the first dose in January, he said.
“I just strongly believe we can play a very positive role in getting vaccines out in the community,” Bettencourt said, “So it’s been very frustrating and disappointing that cities and towns have been cut out of the process.”
Bettencourt said the city received an email from the state on Friday afternoon that informed local officials that the city’s recent request for 200 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine was denied. The city will still receive 100 second doses of the vaccine for those residents who received the first dose during Phase I of the state’s vaccine rollout.
On Jan. 28, the City Council unanimously voted to ask the state for more than the 100 weekly doses the state allots for each local board of health. Bettencourt asked the councilors to consider asking for more vaccines after arguing that municipalities should play a larger role in vaccinating residents. He said the state is pushing for most residents to get vaccinated through their primary care doctor, local pharmacy or at one of the large-scale vaccination supersites.
“I know some people are really anxious and stressed and want to get that shot,” Bettencourt said Monday, explaining that he continues to believe the city should be able to play more of a role in vaccinating seniors. “I worry most about our seniors. I feel like cities and towns know their senior populations and where the most vulnerable people live. We have the resources to connect with people on a quick basis, and we have a very active senior center where thousands of people are connected.”
The city holds weekly vaccine clinics at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center located at 79 Central St.
Health Director Sharon Cameron also said she was upset by the state’s rejection of the city’s request for first doses.
“We were really disappointed. We had four successful clinics last week, and we were hopeful we could get more vaccines and continue vaccinating our seniors,” she said. “But I can’t say I was completely surprised because we are hearing from the state that they are directing largely to mass vaccinations sites and pharmacies as opposed to smaller local clinics. It was still disappointing.”
Cameron said she understands why the state is pushing for the majority of people to get vaccinated at supersites, but she said the elderly population faces numerous obstacles which make it difficult for many seniors to make it to a mass vaccination site.
“A lot of people walked from senior housing developments close by to the council on aging in order to get the vaccine,” Cameron said. “A lot of people with mobility issues or vision impairments were able to make it to our clinic because they are accustomed to the council on aging and because they’ve been there. They are comfortable with the building, and the staff is comforting for them. We’ve had people come with memory impairment, and they saw familiar faces at the Council on Aging and it made them feel welcome and safe to be in that environment.”
The state has taken steps to make the process of getting vaccinated at a supersite more senior-friendly, including making the vaccine available to anyone accompanying a senior to their appointment at a mass vaccination site. Cameron said it isn’t enough.
“I think it will help some people, but at the same time it requires a lot more coordination and planning,” she said. “A lot of elders came to our clinic on their own. They walked here on their own, even when it snowed. It is very different when you have to coordinate with a caregiver and secure two slots. It becomes a much more complex endeavor.”
Bettencourt added that while opening the vaccine to senior companions will be helpful for some, it doesn’t change the fact that local communities and boards of health have the ability to reach out to the most vulnerable populations. He said he worries some seniors could be left behind.
“There are a number of people in our community who are isolated right now,” Bettencourt said. “They don’t have a family member or a caregiver in the area to help them which is why it is so important for our senior center to play an important role in the lives of so many in our older population.”
Cameron said Peabody’s heath department is well-equipped to take on more of a roll on the vaccination of the community.
“We’ve administered every single dose provided to us,” she said, adding that the health department has a list of people to call if they have extra doses at the end of a clinic. “We’ve received 1,030 doses to date, but we’ve administered 1,093 doses because sometimes we can extract an extra dose from the vial. Each vial is supposed to have 10 doses, but we can sometimes get an eleventh. We’ve been very successful in getting the vaccine out quickly and really maximizing the vaccine.”
To register for the vaccine, eligible Peabody residents can visit www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine or call the council on aging at 978-531-2254
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.