Baker Admin Relents; Promises COVID-19 Vaccine Site in SE Mass.
It didn't take long for the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday to reverse course on an earlier decision to provide no convenient COVID-19 vaccination sites for residents of Southeastern Massachusetts, where the cash-strapped cities of Fall River and New Bedford remain among the state's top hot spots for the virus.
Hours after New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell expressed frustration about the decision on Twitter, Mitchell tweeted again to thank Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito "for quickly addressing this matter." The state "will soon set up mass vaccination clinics in SE Mass and on the Cape," Mitchell announced.
In a map unveiled Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the nearest vaccination location for non-first responders in Southeastern Massachusetts would have been at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. That's a 48-mile drive from downtown New Bedford, with no public transportation option. People on Cape Cod would have had a tougher time of it: It's a 115-mile drive from Provincetown to Gillette.
Sen. Mark Montigny on Friday also put his weight behind the matter. In a pointed letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, Montigny urged the Baker administration "to establish COVID-19 vaccination locations in our region immediately." He noted that his staff was in contact with Sudder's team "helping to identify possible locations in New Bedford."
Audra Riding, a spokeswoman for Montigny, told WBSM late Friday that efforts to establish a vaccination site in Greater New Bedford are well underway. "Senator Montigny's office has been actively engaged with the Command Center, and it is our understanding that a site will be implemented in our community," Riding wrote in an email. "We will continue to push until a vaccination site is secured in our region."
The Mass DPH map as initially released showed vaccination locations in the Boston area, the South Shore, the North Shore, the Merrimac Valley, the Worcester area, and Western Massachusetts -- but not a single planned location in Bristol or Plymouth counties.
Mitchell on Friday afternoon told WBSM's Barry Richard that he had been texting back and forth with Polito, but had not spoken directly with Sudders. It was later in the day that Mitchell announced he had secured a promise from Polito that Southeastern Massachusetts would not remain as a vaccination desert.
"Massachusetts does not end at Route 495," Mitchell told WBSM.
So far no news on exactly where the state intends to stand up a vaccination site in the region.
Massachusetts has developed a vaccination timeline that places people into priority groups. Many health care workers have already been vaccinated. People in congregate care settings, in jails or prisons, or in low-income senior housing will be able to get their shots on-site. New Bedford and Fall River first responders have had access to the vaccine locally. The state has also updated its list of vaccination sites for first responders, Mitchell said.
Members of the general public who do not fall into any priority group can expect access to the vaccine in April, according to the latest information posted by MassDPH.