State unveils COVID-19 vaccine call center  

State unveils COVID-19 vaccine call center  

BOSTON — Amid growing frustration over the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday said the state has created a new call center to help elderly residents make appointments to get vaccinated.

Baker said the call center, which can be accessed through the state’s “211” information system, will be available only for residents 75 and older who’ve had trouble scheduling appointments through the state’s online portal.

“We believe this resource will be a huge help to individuals over 75 who may not have access to the Internet,” Baker said at a Friday briefing. “However, we still recommend using the website, if it’s possible to do so, because you may experience significant wait times using the call center.”

He said the state has enlisted at least 500 workers to staff the call center, and information will be available in Spanish and at least 100 other languages.

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Baker said the federal government had distributed more than 1 million doses of vaccine to Massachusetts so far, and more than 681,000 residents have already been vaccinated. Another 120,000 appointments are scheduled for next week.

“Vaccine availability continues to be limited by supply, which means it may take a week or so for people to get an appointment scheduled,” Baker said Friday. “But as we move through the distribution process, and as more vaccines become available, we’ll continue to add appointments and expand resources.”

Massachusetts has 125 vaccination sites in operation, with another 40 expected in coming weeks, according to the Baker administration.

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Locally, a mass vaccination site at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Danvers opened this week.

The state also plans to scale-up several mass vaccination sites in the coming weeks, including Fenway Park in Boston and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

As of Friday morning, Baker said more than 20,000 appointments were still available for next week at Fenway, Gillette and another mass vaccination site in Springfield.

On Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that Massachusetts would get a $213 million grant to support vaccine distribution.

President Joe Biden has vowed to accelerate vaccine distribution and administer at least 100 million doses in the first 100 days of his administration.

So far, two vaccines have been approved for emergency use, the two-dose regimens developed by Pfizer and Cambridge-based Moderna.

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Johnson & Johnson applied for emergency authorization this week from the Food and Drug Administration for its one-shot vaccine.

Nationwide, about 5% of the population received at least one dose of the vaccine in the first month of the rollout, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under the state’s vaccination plans, health care workers, nursing home and congregate residents and police, firefighters and other first responders were among the first groups to get inoculated.

Individuals ages 75 and up were eligible starting this week.

Vaccines won’t be available to the general public until April, according to the state’s plans.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]

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