Sponsored by:

Officials, advocates seek to solve confusing, frustrating vaccine signup

  • CVS Pharmacist Sandra Balbino administers a COVID-19 vaccine at Overlook Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice on Amherst Road in Sunderland. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. AP PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/28/2021 4:50:45 PM

The state’s Phase 2 vaccine rollout is off to a weak start because while plans on paper suggest those 75 years old and older will be able to start being vaccinated Monday, there doesn’t seem to be enough vaccines in Franklin County to make that happen. Plus, seniors are having a difficult and frustrating time trying to register for their first dose.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said in a written statement on Wednesday that Franklin and Hampshire counties have been left “high and dry” without any mass vaccination sites and limited public transportation to get to them, even if they existed. She said vaccines are being offered on a smaller scale at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but many Franklin County residents find it difficult to get there.

“A successful vaccine rollout, which yes, depends in part on federal supply, also needs Gov. (Charlie) Baker’s commitment to regional equity, as well as a commitment to the resources necessary to address the overall pace of the rollout, the logistics around sign-ups and painstaking attention to reaching the most marginalized among us,” the senator wrote.

Then, on Thursday, Comerford issued a joint statement with state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, announcing that, starting Feb. 1, 3,000 additional COVID-19 vaccines per week will be distributed to public health officials and outlets in Western Massachusetts on top of the doses that were already expected.

“Three thousand additional doses of the vaccine each week is an incremental, people-powered win, but cannot and will not stop there,” their statement reads. “Our constituents need and deserve regional equity.”

Comerford and Domb seek to ensure that Franklin and Hampshire counties receive: their fair share of statewide supplies, tracked transparently with uniform metrics; local distribution that take into account the region’s public transportation barriers; a single, user-friendly reservation portal; a multilingual phone reservation option for those without internet access or computer literacy; support for seniors and other marginalized communities to ensure access; an adequate vaccinator workforce; and a public information campaign on the safety, efficacy and logistics of vaccine acceptance, in multiple languages.

“It’s 100 miles to Boston from our beautiful region,” Comerford and Domb wrote. “Constituents have demonstrated that hundreds of Western Mass. voices can travel all the way to Beacon Hill. We expect our fair share of vaccine doses to travel all of the way back.”

CVS, UMass lacking doses

Senior advocate and Greenfield resident Al Norman said he tried to sign a couple of his friends up for the vaccine and continues to receive messages like the one online from CVS in Greenfield: “None of your selected vaccines are available nearby. Try another city or ZIP code.” People were supposed to be able to register starting Wednesday of this week.

“There are vaccine plans on paper, but the only ones that matter are the ones at the consumer level, the ones going into people’s arms,” Norman said. “CVS, which was expected to be one of the main consumer level players, is showing on its website that there are no vaccines available in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, Springfield and Worcester ZIP codes.”

Likewise, the UMass Amherst vaccination site says, “There are currently no time slots available for vaccinations. We will add additional time slots as we get confirmation from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that additional vaccine doses have been shipped to us. This status is updated regularly. Please check back.”

Norman said another issue is that many seniors don’t have a computer or access to the internet or don’t feel comfortable using the internet. He said many don’t want to have to travel outside of their town or at least their county.

“For these people, there is no phone number to call or person to talk to to get counseling on where to set up an appointment,” Norman said.

Boards of health and other public health officials earlier this week announced the rollout of vaccines first for those 75 and older, and shortly after, those who are 65 years old or older, but people are worried they won’t be available when the time comes. Another group included in Phase 2 includes those who have at least two underlying conditions.

Greenfield Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief Robert Strahan said the city is completing its Phase 1 administration with second doses of the vaccine to “essential” personnel, first responders, health care workers and others at the same time it is making plans for Phase 2. The city has not yet chosen a start date for Phase 2.

Tackling signup issues

Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker said she spoke with someone at CVS’s corporate office on Wednesday and was told the pharmacy is limited to 144 “slots” for vaccines per day. She added that the website is poorly designed, so it doesn’t tell when the slots are full for a particular day or when to check back.

In a second call to CVS headquarters Thursday, Walker said she raised more concerns and was told the pharmacy promises to address the issues. CVS will be administering the vaccine seven days per week, which means 1,008 vaccines a week.

“Once it’s easier for people to sign up for a slot, they’ll have to do it early, because the slots fill up fast,” she said.

Walker said FRCOG was told Stop & Shop and Big Y will both be providing vaccinations as well, but it isn’t clear when that will happen yet. While the system to sign up for a vaccine has been confusing for many, some remember back to the early days of COVID-19 testing, which brought with it many of the same issues.

Several weeks ago, one of the state’s Stop the Spread sites opened at Greenfield Community College and for the first few days, people found it difficult to sign up for a test. Since then, it has been running smoothly, according to those who have signed up.

“A lot of people are clearly frustrated and for good reason,” Walker said of the vaccination process. “We’ll just keep working on it until things are working the way they should.”

When Walker, other FRCOG employees, local boards of health and other public health officials met earlier this week to discuss the Phase 2 rollout, they agreed that cooperation is going to be key when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of county residents.

One of the issues, officials say, is that at the same time the state announced Phase 2 would start sooner than originally planned, the state also announced a “dramatic reduction” in access to the vaccine by local public clinics organized by boards of health. On the other hand, the local hospital, health centers and pharmacies will be ramping up the distribution of vaccines to their patients and will let those patients know about the protocol for that happening.

Online booking

According to the state’s COVID-19 Command Center, online booking will happen at mass.gov/COVIDvaccine. Currently, and until more vaccines are available, the demand is high for a limited number of appointments through the online platform. Additional appointments will be added to the website regularly with most availability at mass vaccination sites — the closest is at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield — while smaller sites like CVS will post smaller numbers of daily appointments.

Currently, the mass vaccination sites are posting large batches of appointments once a week (on Thursdays) for the next seven days. The number of appointments — which is expected to increase in the coming weeks — is based on the available number of doses allocated from the federal government to ensure every appointment is fulfilled with a dose. Residents are encouraged to check mass vaccination sites weekly, though it could take weeks for eligible residents to secure an appointment based on availability and supply.

For more information about vaccine rollout, including a map of where to get one and how to sign up, visit bit.ly/2L0NYbk.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy