THE HIGH VACCINATION rate among older people in Massachusetts is driving down the number of COVID-19 cases in that age group.
According to the latest state data, there were 943 COVID-19 cases among people over 70 in the last two weeks, or 4 percent of total cases. That figure is important because elderly people are most likely to become hospitalized or die of COVID-19.
The highest number of cases is occurring among younger people, with 5,378 cases reported in the 20-29-year-old range, and more than 3,200 cases in each 10-year age group among people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.
More than 80 percent of the 75-plus population has gotten a vaccine, and more than 70 percent of people over 65. Under current state guidelines, anyone over age 60 is eligible along with certain essential workers.
Gov. Charlie Baker said the dropping infection rates among older people is evidence that the vaccines are effective. “The proof on the performance of the vaccine in Massachusetts is pretty evident at this point that it works,” Baker said at a press conference in Chelsea.
There have also been 6,400 COVID cases in the last two weeks among people ages 0 to 19. Currently, only those 16 and older can get the vaccines, although clinical trials are ongoing to test whether the vaccines are safe for younger teenagers. Asked whether Massachusetts would consider vaccinating children under 16, Baker said he would wait for federal guidance.
Initial Johnson & Johnson doses on track
Massachusetts is still on track to get 100,000 doses of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, but the state does not yet know how much it will get after that.
An error at a manufacturing plant in Maryland led to 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being discarded before they were distributed. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the incident will not affect the state’s one-time allocation of doses next week – but how much of the vaccine Massachusetts will get the next few weeks “is under review.”
Sudders said about half the new doses will go through CVS and Walgreens, which get them directly from the federal government. The rest will be distributed through other vaccination sites in Massachusetts – regional collaboratives, community health centers, and mobile clinics for the homebound and senior housing complexes – but not mass vaccination sites.
Baker said generally the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been “lumpier” than distribution of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. For those vaccines, Baker said, the state supply has been generally steady, with slightly more doses each week.
Sudders and Baker spoke at a press conference Thursday after visiting a vaccination site run by La Colaborativa in Chelsea.
New mobile sites
A federal-state pilot vaccine program at the Hynes Convention Center will feature a mobile operation delivering shots to people in parks, parking lots, and other places easy for community members to access in Chelsea, Revere, Fall River, Boston, and New Bedford.
The mobile deliveries will run for the eight-week length of the program and ramp up to administering roughly 500 vaccines a day in each community.
As several other states are opening vaccine eligibility to larger populations, Baker defended Massachusetts’ decision not to make all residents eligible until April 19.
“Our focus from the beginning of this has been on those most vulnerable,” Baker said. “By having everyone eligible by Patriots Day, April 19, we’ll have given the most vulnerable among us the opportunity they need to get vaccinated.”
Baker said his goal is to get a large portion of those who are already eligible vaccinated before opening it up to the next group. He pointed out that other states with broader eligibility have vaccinated a lower percentage of their population than Massachusetts. “Eligibility is one thing. Actually executing on the ground and getting big portions of the population that’s eligible vaccinated are another,” Baker said.
With people with one medical condition set to become eligible on Monday, Baker was also asked if he would expand eligibility to individuals with Type 1 diabetes.
Until now, Massachusetts has largely adhered to CDC guidance regarding which medical conditions make someone “high-risk” for COVID-19, other than adding asthma, which was not on the CDC list. The CDC earlier this week expanded its list to include Type 1 diabetes along with a handful of other medical conditions. (Type 2 diabetes is already on the list.)
The governor did not say yes or no, saying only that he will talk to his advisory board, and Massachusetts has not always aligned with all CDC guidance.
With some survey data showing that Republican men are the group least likely to want a vaccine, Baker was asked whether he would reach out to this group. The governor said the state is focusing most of its outreach on communities of color, where many people “have a lot of very good reasons to be hesitant about this and take a wait and see attitude about it.”
Baker said he thinks what will convince Republican men to get the shot is the same as in other communities: “Because their neighbor got it or their coworkers got it or their doctor reaches out to them and says you really need to get vaccinated.” He added that, so far, the problem has not been hesitancy, but supply, since every available appointment is getting booked.