Massachusetts health officials intend to halt shipments of some COVID-19 vaccines to several hospitals in Western Massachusetts, diverting the supplies to super vaccination sites, MassLive has learned.
For a two-week period, Baystate Health, Cooley Dickinson Health Care and Mercy Medical Center will not receive their shipments of the first dose except for patients who have already scheduled appointments next week, according to lawmakers and the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center. Lawmakers told MassLive they were informed of the plan during a call with hospital executives Thursday afternoon.
Lawmakers said patients who have appointments to get their second doses won’t be affected. The Command Center said Thursday night patients who had appointments to get their first doses next week won’t need to reschedule their appointments.
“I think it’s concerning that we’re placing our trust in most of the vaccinations into a private company not from Massachusetts instead of our local community hospitals, our departments and boards of health that people trust,” said Rep. Jake Oliveira, a Ludlow Democrat, who was on the call.
Rep. Mindy Domb, an Amherst Democrat, said the move threatens to make the COVID-19 vaccine less accessible to people ages 75 and up.
“We want to make sure people come and get the vaccine, that they’re comfortable getting it. We should be decentralizing the process, not centralizing it,” said Domb, who was also on the call. “We got these mass sites where we’re seeing the pictures of the 75 plus year olds waiting in the cold outside.”
Hundreds of Massachusetts residents waited in below-freezing temperatures and snow outside the Eastfield Mall in Springfield to receive their dose of the Pfizer vaccine, MassLive reported on Monday. In days since, a series of changes have been implemented at the site.
When asked about the shift, Baystate Health officials said they had not received any official notification from the state.
But Baystate Health President and CEO Mark Keroack said in a statement, “we are hopeful that MA Department of Public Health will provide sufficient vaccine allocations to enable us to honor the appointments for community members that have been scheduled for the next two weeks.”
Dr. Robert Roose, chief medical officer for Mercy Medical Center, said in a statement the hospital plans to continue to provide the COVID-19 vaccine “as our allocation allows” based on DPH’s guidelines.
“Community members place their trust in hospitals to deliver effective, high quality care and services,” Roose said. “Mercy Medical Center embraces this role as demonstrated by the precision, flexibility, and excellence that can be found at our COVID-19 vaccination clinic, which also stands as a tangible example of our Mission to serve as a ‘transforming, healing presence’ in the local community.”
Kate Reilly, COVID-19 Command Center spokeswoman, issued a statement saying the commonwealth will distribute more vaccines to “high throughput locations,” such as mass vaccination sites, retail pharmacies and community health centers until more the federal government sends more vaccine doses.
“The commonwealth continues to distribute more vaccines more quickly through more locations in order to vaccinate residents as quickly and efficiently as possible, but the supply delivered to Massachusetts by the federal government has remained the same for several weeks,” Reilly said.
The state has received 100,000 doses each week. Reilly said the command center and the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association are “working together to plan for a more predictable supply for the next few weeks.”
DPH expects to send more doses to hospital systems if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved, according to the command center. The company applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine candidate last week. The federal advisory committee and the Food and Drug Administration could review the application as early as late February, Forbes reported.
Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa first heard Cooley Dickinson might lose its first doses from a constituent who called her office on Thursday. The constituent reported being told she couldn’t schedule an appointment. Then, Sabadosa jumped on a call with hospital executives.
“We are very upset,” the Northampton Democrat said.
A spokesman for Mass General Brigham, which owns Cooley Dickinson, did not respond to calls and emails from MassLive Thursday.
Neither Hampshire County, where Cooley Dickinson is based, nor Franklin County has a super vaccination site. The closest site is at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, which came under scrutiny this week after hundreds of people waited out in the cold for a vaccine.
Representatives for Curative, the provider at the site, told MassLive people should wait in their cars to prevent crowding and long lines. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Baker made similar suggestions when asked about the long wait for people ages 75 and up.
Massachusetts also has super vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and Fenway Park in Boston. The state plans to launch two new sites at the Natick Mall and at the Circuit City site in Dartmouth.
State Sen. Jo Comerford, who with Domb has pushed for a vaccine equity bill, called the pause in vaccine distribution to Western Massachusetts hospitals “a slap” to residents in Hampshire and Franklin counties.
“It’s outrageous that in the middle of a pandemic that hospitals, who train medical professionals on whom we rely, would be prohibited from distributing the vaccine, especially in an area like Hampshire and Franklin Counties,” the Northampton Democrat said.
Rep. Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat, said he was surprised to hear about the pause in vaccine distribution to Western Massachusetts hospitals.
“Our local hospitals in Franklin and Hampshire County have invested time and resources setting up vaccination sites locally, while our region has been ignored by the administration,” he said in a message. “This new policy doesn’t help our region move forward at all, and it actually seems harmful to the progress that has been made.”
UPDATE: This story was updated Thursday night to include comments from the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center and Mercy Medical Center.