PROVINCETOWN — The Outer Cape is getting vaccinated for Covid. Outer Cape Health Services has been inoculating its staff here and in Wellfleet with the Moderna vaccine. Seashore Point Wellness and Rehabilitation Center in Provincetown, the Outer Cape’s only nursing home, was to have offered the Pfizer vaccine to its residents and staff on Wednesday, Jan. 6. And beginning Monday, Jan. 11, first responders will be authorized to receive the vaccine at the county’s new drive-through site in Barnstable.
This is the beginning of a long process. On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker called it “the largest, most significant, potentially lifesaving vaccine rollout in U.S. history,” and then he literally screamed the words “That can’t happen fast enough!” The need to dispense the vaccine both quickly and fairly has raised pressure on local leaders to organize a strategy and execute it.
According to the state’s vaccine timeline, health-care workers are the first priority, and Cape Cod’s first vaccine shipments — 9,450 doses — have gone directly to medical providers instead of town or county governments. Cape Cod Healthcare, which manages both of Cape Cod’s hospitals, is, by far, the largest medical organization here, with about 6,000 employees and an annual payroll of nearly half a billion dollars. Detailed breakdowns of where the vaccine shipments went are not yet available — but it’s clear from statewide data that nearly everyone who received the vaccine in December was connected to a hospital.
Community health centers and nursing homes are now a statewide focus. The state is participating in a federal plan for CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccines in nursing homes. The CVS plan to administer the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to residents and staff of the nursing home at Seashore Point on Jan. 6 was confirmed by David Ball, a spokesman for the AdviniaCare group that owns Seashore Point and several other Mass. nursing homes. Ball could not confirm how many residents and staff would be inoculated.
State reports indicate there have been no deaths from Covid at Seashore Point. Since the first dose of vaccine is thought to offer significant protection, the arrival of vaccines this week holds out the hope that the facility might escape the pandemic with a record of no Covid deaths at all.
At Outer Cape Health Services, “all OCHS staff who have opted for the Moderna vaccine have either received the first dose or are scheduled for this week,” said communications officer Gerry Desautels. OCHS has a staff of 198, and it received a shipment of vaccine directly from the state.
Not every employee of a medical organization is considered by the state to be a vaccination priority. “Individuals who do not come into contact with patients are not prioritized in phase one,” according to the state’s vaccine timeline. But Gov. Baker made clear on Monday that he doesn’t want to see any vaccine wasted, either.
“I do know that a couple of community health centers did distribute doses to some of their local first responders” rather than let doses spoil, said Baker. “Our point of view is it’s important to use it.” Baker added that no loss or spoilage of vaccine had been reported so far.
Vaccines for First Responders
This week’s expansion of inoculations to police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel is the first time that town and county governments will become involved. Barnstable County will be directly receiving a shipment of around 1,300 doses from the state, said Sean O’Brien, the county’s health director. Those will be for first responders from 10 Cape Cod towns: Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Harwich, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown.
According to mass.gov, first responders from these 10 towns will be able to make appointments online and then head to a new drive-through location at the Barnstable County government campus on Main Street (Route 6A) in Barnstable. According to the state’s website, vaccinations there will be on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Later in January, phase one will expand to include people who live or work at congregate living sites, including homeless shelters and jails, as well as home health-care workers. After that, vaccination will expand to larger segments of the public, beginning with people over 75 and people with two or more health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid, such as cancer, obesity, and diabetes. (The state’s full list of co-morbidities can be found at mass.gov/info-details/when-can-i-get-the-covid-19-vaccine).
The same sites used for first responder vaccinations are likely to be used for the broader public, said Gov. Baker. Additionally, the state is working on “mega-sites” that could vaccinate 2,000 people per day.
“When it comes to handling the general population, it will be between the state Dept. of Public Health and the local boards of health, as it should be,” said O’Brien. “Every town has an emergency dispensing site plan. If they want to set up their own vaccination clinics, they have plans to do it. We can provide resources through our nurses, our medical reserve corps. Whatever they need, we are here to help.”
It’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck effort. With a population of almost seven million, Massachusetts could be looking at six million vaccine candidates, and nearly 12 million individual doses. (People under 16 are not yet approved for Covid vaccines, and some vaccines may require only one dose.)
That’s a lot of inoculations. To get it all done in eight months would require around 50,000 shots per day. The numbers are less scary if you just look at Cape Cod, where 1,500 shots per day would work. That could be accomplished at one of Baker’s “mega-sites,” or 15 smaller efforts in the 15 towns in the county.
But no matter how the work is divvied up, it’s going to take a lot of shots to stop the pandemic from spreading.