PROVINCETOWN — The state’s April 15 Covid vaccination report has great news for the Outer Cape. The top-line numbers show that the four outermost towns have among the highest Covid vaccination rates in the entire state: 68 percent of Eastham’s population has received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, as has 69 percent of Wellfleet, 71 percent of Truro, and a whopping 93 percent of Provincetown.
Those numbers place all four towns in the top 10 out of 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts.
The Lower Cape is also doing well. Seventy-five percent of Orleans has received at least one dose, and Chatham’s 67 percent places it at number 11 on the list.
The other towns in the top 10 are Tisbury and Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard, and three small towns in western Mass.: Williamsburg, Great Barrington, and Shelburne.
Provincetown’s 93 percent is second only to Shelburne, which the report says is 99.7 percent vaccinated: 1,826 first doses given to 1,831 people. There is a weakness in the state’s reporting, though: the percentages are based on the Dept. of Public Health’s 2019 estimate of each town’s actual population. Towns that contain many second homes can be difficult to count accurately, and many people have moved into their second homes since the pandemic began.
Most of the towns in the top 10, including Provincetown and Truro, have vaccinated more people over age 65 than the state records as actually existing in those towns. (The state calls this a “greater than 95 percent vaccination rate” for these age groups.) This data discrepancy is elevating the percentage-vaccinated number in vacation towns across the state.
But the Outer Cape’s high numbers are not just a function of having more senior residents than the state thinks we have. Vaccination rates on the Outer Cape are strong in all age groups. A combined tally for all four towns shows that 44 percent of people 20 to 29 years old have already received at least one dose, as have 63 percent of people ages 30 to 49. This is despite the fact that these age groups became categorically eligible for vaccination only on April 19.
The high numbers are a reflection of how many people here work in frontline, public-facing industries, especially hospitality. People who have any role in delivering or serving food, as well as people who work in retail, transportation, sanitation, and utilities, all became eligible on March 22, and the Cape Cod Vaccine Consortium — a coalition that includes Barnstable County, all 15 towns on Cape Cod, the three community health centers, and Cape Cod Hospital — made a deliberate push to get these workers vaccinated before eligibility was opened to everyone on April 19. Partly as a result, the Outer Cape towns are running well ahead of the statewide average when it comes to these younger demographics. Provincetown, in particular, is running more than 30 points ahead of the statewide numbers for 20- to 49-year-olds.
“The data show that we are reaching essential workers,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr. “The coordinated effort on vaccination is a success, with credit due to local health agents, Barnstable County, Cape Cod Healthcare, and most especially Outer Cape Health Services.”
None of this was a foregone conclusion for a region that is almost two hours away from the nearest state-run mass vaccination site. In February, when Gov. Baker was cutting hospitals and local boards of health out of the vaccine allocation process in favor of stadium sites, there were real fears that the region would be going into the summer season unprotected.
Instead, with five of the 10 most-vaccinated towns in the state, the Outer and Lower Cape can think about having nearly everyone vaccinated by Memorial Day, including newly arrived seasonal workers.
Meanwhile, the current “pause” on use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shouldn’t have too bad an effect here, according to Barnstable County Health Director Sean O’Brien. That’s because the county and Cape Cod Healthcare both receive mostly Pfizer vaccine, since they have the ultra-cold freezer capacity to store it, O’Brien said.
Outer Cape Health Services has been mostly receiving the Moderna vaccine. CVS locations around Cape Cod had been receiving Johnson & Johnson shots through a federal program, Cyr said, and that channel could be disrupted for a while as a consequence of the “pause.” The consortium’s leaders are optimistic that their allocations of Pfizer and Moderna doses will continue at the current brisk pace, however.
All in all, it’s quite a turnaround from only eight weeks ago. Two-thirds of everyone here has had a shot now, and the “vast majority” of them were able to get their shot locally, according to OCHS communications director Gerry Desautels. There are thousands of seasonal workers on the way, so there’s still plenty of work to do, but the Outer Cape looks to be well positioned for the summer season that’s nearly upon us.