Natick Director of Public Health Jim White said during Tuesday’s Board of Health meeting that his office is getting inundated with questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, but the reality is that people largely need to get their vaccine answers from the state for now. The Commonwealth this week announced that those eligible to get the vaccine under Phase 2 of its plan will be allowed to do so come Feb. 1, and regional mass vaccination sites and commercial partners like CVS are being prioritized.
It’s not that the town doesn’t want to help. It just doesn’t have as much vaccine as it would like to have.
“We at the local health departments are getting a little frustrated because we were told that the ones that were approved to do the vaccinations and hold the clinics were told that there was going to be a cap for the communities,” White said. Around here, that cap is at 100 doses at a time, whereas harder hit communities have higher caps.
Natick doled out its first 200 doses to first responders and others eligible under Phase 1 of the state’s timeline. The town’s current supply of 100 doses is already spoken for through a public clinic slated for Jan. 27 that filled up quickly on Friday after the state linked to the registration page before the town even had a chance to promote it. That resulted in some who weren’t eligible under Phase 1 of the state’s vaccine plan to be removed from the list, but they were quickly replaced on Monday by those who live or work in Natick and did qualify.
The supply is short statewide. “We were told that out of all the vaccine that has been given to the state of Massachusetts, 98% of it has already been distributed,” White said he was told during a call with the state’s Department of Public Health. “We’re all keeping our fingers crossed. You can open up all the vaccination sites we can, but we’ve got to have the vaccine in order to run the vaccination sites.”
Natick doesn’t have a next clinic planned yet, as it waits to find out what kind of supply it will get next, and when.
White assures that if Natick got more doses it could handle many more vaccinations. While the Health Department’s staff is stretched, the town has lots of volunteers and tens of thousands of dollars in grants (including a MetroWest Health Foundation grant) that could be used to supplement its staff. The town could dispense more vaccine per clinic and hold more clinics to meet demand, he said, if it had more doses.
Hopes that teachers, now in the last section of Phase 2, might get vaccinated during February break doesn’t look likely. They’re more likely to get shots toward the end of February or beginning of March, even as the state urges more schools to get kids back in physical classrooms.
The Health Department was inundated with calls about vaccines over the past week and weekend regarding, White says. Just when it looked like the inquiries might be calming down, the state on Monday made its Phase 2 announcement regarding those age 75 and above being eligible for the vaccine come Feb. 1, and it started all over again.
Natick has collected resources online, including links to state vaccine information, on the town website. The town is also setting up a phone bank at the Natick Community-Senior Center to support those who might not have computers or be handy with them, so that they can arrange to be vaccinated. The town is willing to give vaccines to the homebound and reach out to public and senior housing residents when more doses become available.
The town has also reached out to CVS, and the Health Department is confident that the West Central Street site could be well equipped to handle drive-through vaccinations. But that CVS doesn’t have any supply yet either.
White says he’s hoping that new federal efforts to step up production will have good results. “We would love to get as many of the vaccines into people’s arms as quick as possible,” he said.
Overall, COVID-19 numbers are heading in the right direction locally, with Natick remaining in the state’s “yellow” level (the middle). The state’s positivity rate dropping below 5% is encouraging, after hitting 8%, White said. The town has been holding steady of late with about 150-155 people in isolation. The lack of COVID-19 transmission within Natick Public Schools has also been a good sign.
Despite the better numbers, Natick health officials are urging the public to stay vigilant, especially wth new and more contagious variants on the rise.