Nashoba Valley councils on aging seek more vaccines

Residents encouraged to fill out survey to press state officials to extend more help

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GROTON – While senior citizens are being prioritized in the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, officials at some Nashoba Valley councils on aging say they don’t have enough doses to properly vaccinate their communities.

On Feb. 11, Groton, Pepperell and Shirley’s Councils on Aging released statements asking residents over the age of 65 to fill out a survey asking if they’ve been vaccinated and what challenges they’ve faced in getting the vaccine.

Kathy Shelp, director of the Groton Council on Aging, Marilyn Largey, director of Shirley’s Council on Aging and Susan McCarthy, director of Pepperell’s Albert Harris Center, all issued separate but similar statements with the survey attached.

The statements noted that their respective towns have been “undersupplied” with vaccines and senior citizens having to travel long distances to get to mass vaccination sites.

“Our State Representative Sheila Harrington has advocated to Gov. (Charlie) Baker for a mass site or minimally, additional vaccines for this region,” the Groton and Pepperell statements read. “Your input will provide the much-needed data to present to the governor and other policy makers in our Commonwealth. We hope it will provide enough data to create a picture of need in our area.”

McCarthy said on Tuesday that the driving force behind the effort has been Harrington, who represents the 1st Middlesex District. McCarthy added that Pepperell, like other towns, have been receiving 16 doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine per week for the last two weeks. According to McCarthy, Pepperell’s Council on Aging has only been able to vaccinate 32 residents over the age of 85.

“We’re all frustrated because everyone wants a shot and it’s making everyone aggravated,” she added. “There hadn’t been any action to get more vaccines so Rep. Harrington said, ‘Let’s take some action.’”

The Baker administration has been widely criticized for the vaccination rollout. The Nashoba Valley is not alone in its concern. Two state representatives, Tram Nguyen, who represents Andover and several other Essex County communities in the 18th Essex District, and Tami Gouvia, of Acton, who represents the 14th Middlesex, criticized Baker this week.

Council officials are looking for Baker to either provide more vaccine doses to communities or establish a new mass vaccination site closer to the Nashoba Valley.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who represents the Middlesex and Worcester District, said he and Rep. Harrington sent a letter to Baker on Feb. 5 asking for his administration to establish a new site in either the Northwest Middlesex County and North Worcester County.

The letter specifically suggests either two major hotels in Devens or Masy BioServices in Pepperell due to the large space available at those locations.

Eldridge also recommended the Baker/Polito administration send 100 to 200 more doses of the coronavirus vaccine to each town in the Nashoba area.

“For me, the most productive thing to do is to get all town administrators in the area to compose a letter saying that if a mass vaccination site is established, doctors, nurses and volunteers would be available,” Eldridge said.

Shelp said that another problem with the vaccine administration is that the other mass vaccination sites are located too far away for senior citizens to travel. She noted that the two closest sites are the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers and Gillette Stadium in Foxboro

“People shouldn’t have to be driving an hour to get a vaccine,” Shelp said. “I know we’re not living in a perfect world, but we just want to even things out.”

Other Nashoba Valley towns have been even less fortunate in getting vaccine supplies. Karin Canfield Moore, director of the Townsend Senior Center, said the town has only received 12 vaccines per week for the last two weeks. The town is also asking senior citizens to fill out the survey, but Moore noted that local officials have had trouble getting it out to its own citizens due to being short-staffed at the moment. Still, officials are trying to get more seniors vaccinated wherever possible.

“Everyone here is trying to do the best that they can,” Moore said. “People are nervous and tired and scared and lonely.”