TEWKSBURY — Frustrated with the Baker administration’s handling of coronavirus vaccine distribution, over two dozen government officials from seven different communities had prepared to gather virtually on Thursday to discuss possible changes to the state’s pandemic response.
Then, a day ahead of the meeting, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders issued a letter to local boards of health announcing the state’s new plan to streamline vaccine distribution, and Chairman Ray Barry canceled the meeting.
“That essentially negated the need for having a regional meeting, so I canceled that,” Barry said.
Specifically, state officials announced that people over age 65, residents and staff of affordable and low-income housing for seniors, and people with two or more health conditions that put them at higher risk would be able to start making COVID-19 vaccine appointments on Thursday, roughly doubling the eligible population.
Officials also said that the state would be focusing on high-capacity locations like mass vaccination sites and regional collaboratives to deliver the shots.
“We started with a very deliberate and very particular and what I would describe as a very equitably framed process at the beginning of this, but the big message we got from the public was vaccinate, vaccinate,” Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference, slapping his hand for emphasis. “And there’s no question the fastest way to do this is with high-volume sites.”
The regional discussion — which would’ve featured administrators and health department officials from Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford — was meant to inform residents about the challenges community officials are facing and to open a discussion with them about possible solutions.
According to organizers, some of the solutions that they had intended to discuss were to send vaccine doses to local communities and health care facilities rather than mass vaccination clinics, to fulfill the weekly vaccine requests submitted by local health departments and to pressure the Baker administration to begin reporting how many COVID-19 vaccines that have been distributed and where they go.