Officials Ready Regional Vaccine Site

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: COVID-19

Volunteers set up the vaccine site in the gymnasium of Cape Cod Community College earlier this week. As of Tuesday, no opening date had been announced. COURTESY CAPE COD HEALTHCARE

While Carefully Watching For Possible COVID-19 Resurgence

Punctuated by warnings that new virus variants may set back the fight against COVID-19, public health officials are pushing to accelerate the vaccination process. On Cape Cod, a large regional vaccine clinic is expected to open perhaps as early as this week.

The vaccine site is being established at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, and will be open by appointment only. It is being operated by Cape Cod Healthcare in cooperation with Barnstable County and other partners.

“This consortium plan is solid, but I must reiterate, it is dependent on adequate supply of vaccine from the commonwealth,” said State. Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, speaking last week on behalf of the Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force.

“The good news is, that has started to flow,” Cape Cod Healthcare CEO Mike Lauf said last Thursday. The vaccine center at the college will be able to provide more than 750 doses a day, five days a week. The new center will supplement, not replace, existing regional vaccine clinics in Falmouth, Hyannis, Orleans and Eastham, and the county expects to now receive 1,170 doses per week from the state, up from 975.

Also under the auspices of the new Cape Cod Vaccine Consortium, doses will be flowing from the Cape’s community health centers through local councils on aging, with the goal of reaching home-bound or other at-risk senior citizens.

“Hopefully we’re going to get on that the week after next,” Chatham Health Agent Judith Giorgio told the health board Monday. In Chatham, talks have been underway with the housing authority and Wise Living to identify seniors who need vaccinations at home. “It’s a complicated thing to arrange,” Giorgio said, but officials are confident they can make it happen.

“This is really a credit to the region coming together,” Cyr said. His office has been flooded with messages from constituents who are “frustrated and angry” about the state’s vaccine roll-out. Last Thursday, when the state’s vaccine website posted new appointments, it advised some visitors to expect wait times of 95,000 minutes or longer. A Chronicle staffer reported seeing a 21-minute wait time, which decreased to 11 before then increasing to 30 and finally reporting “your wait is longer than a day.”

While the consortium is now working from lists of potentially eligible seniors 65 and older for its vaccine doses, the center at the college will ultimately be connected to the state’s PrepMod database to allow for online sign-ups.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the state and its vendor are working to increase capacity on the website, but said the traffic jams will be eased somewhat when the state receives more doses of the vaccine on a regular basis.

“As the feds increase their supply, we will increase our appointments,” he said. And the new Johnson and Johnson vaccine, approved for emergency use by the FDA on Saturday, will help meet that need, Baker said. Because that vaccine is effective after a single dose, and because doses do not require special deep-freeze refrigeration, they can be administered more quickly than the Moderna or Pfizer versions, officials say.

“If you have a chance to get a vaccine, you should take it, whatever it is,” Baker said. “All three of ‘em work.”

Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson agreed, saying the objective should be to get vaccinated as soon as possible. “Don’t try to play the vaccine game,” he said. “They are all pretty much equally effective.”

To sign up, visit www.mass.gov/covidvaccine. For additional help, visit www.barnstablecountyhealth.org or call 774-330-3001. A number of seniors have successfully booked vaccinations through the website of CVS Pharmacy, Walgreen’s and Stop and Shop, and others have had luck securing an appointment with Outer Cape Health Services or the Carewell Urgent Care Center in South Dennis.

On Monday, the state’s economic reopening plan returned to Phase 3, Step 1, which allows most businesses to operate at up to 50 percent capacity. Restaurants have their capacity limits fully lifted, but they must still provide six feet of spacing between tables.

“By virtue of how much space they have, that is kind of a de facto capacity limit,” Duncanson noted. The regulation roll-back also allows certain live musical performances in restaurants. On March 22, the state is expected to enter Phase 4, Step 1, which lifts some limitations on public outdoor events. At that time, the largest outdoor venues like Fenway Park will be allowed to reopen at 12 percent capacity. Outdoor street festivals, parades and fairs will not yet be permitted.

The easing of the regulations comes even as the director of the Centers for Disease Control warned that the steady decline in COVID-19 cases appears to be stalling and may be linked to more contagious variants of the disease that are now becoming more prevalent. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned that now is not the right time for states to relax safeguards, and doing so might lead to a fourth surge of the pandemic.

Chatham health board member Richard Edwards questioned Baker’s decision in light of Walensky’s comments.

“If we have another surge, it just seems crazy to me” to be easing restrictions, he said. “It seems to be more of a political decision.”

Duncanson said he believes Baker is using sound public health metrics in his decision, and said case numbers locally continue to decline.

“This is not just a public health issue. It is also an economic issue,” he said, and while public health officials only need to consider the rules from that standpoint, the governor doesn’t have that luxury. But based on the state’s public health figures, easing the restrictions now is not an inappropriate move, Duncanson opined. “It’s not like we just suddenly opened the floodgates and got rid of all the protections,” he said.

Speaking earlier in the day, Baker stressed the need for people to remain vigilant with their use of masks and social distancing and to continue avoiding gatherings of people outside their own household. The state will be monitoring carefully for any signs of a resurgence, he noted.

“If we see something that concerns us, we’ll make adjustments again,” Baker said.