MA enters Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccination plan

by Sophie Strausberg, News Contributor, Sarah Wei, News Reporter & Eva Zacharakis, News Editor
photo courtesy of City of Newton

Massachusetts entered the second stage of its vaccination rollout — which includes residents with over 65, those with two or more pre-existing conditions, teachers and employees in transit, grocery, utility, food, sanitation, public works and public health sectors — on Feb. 1. Phase 2 will continue until April, according to the Massachusetts vaccine rollout plan. Currently, healthcare workers, first responders, residents of congregate care settings, residents and staff of care facilities and individuals over 75 are the only Massachusetts residents eligible to receive the vaccine. The remaining groups of Phase 2 will become eligible over the coming months, while the general public will have to wait until Phase 3.

The Pfizer vaccine is administered in the form of a shot and requires two doses to be given three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine also requires two shots, separated by four weeks.

The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services implemented a three-phase distribution plan, each of which lasts approximately two months. Phase 1 stretched from mid-December to Feb. 1; Phase 2 started on Feb. 1 and will continue until April; Phase 3 will last from April until June. Each phase is broken down in order of vaccination urgency.

Massachusetts began distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible healthcare workers in December 2020 as part of the Pfizer vaccine’s rollout, nine months after the state’s first COVID-19 case was reported in March. The Moderna vaccine was approved soon after.

The members of Phase 1’s highest priority group — Group 1 — which consisted of healthcare workers in contact with COVID-19 and staff and residents of care facilities, began receiving their vaccines in mid-December. The remaining subgroups of Phase 1 became eligible to receive their vaccines on Jan. 21.

Although the percentage of people in Massachusetts who have been vaccinated is one of the lowest in the nation, Dr. Deborah Youngblood, director of Newton Health and Human Services (HHS), said that the distribution has been successful in its earliest forms.

There are three vaccination sites in Newton: the Mt. Ida Campus of UMass Amherst, the CVS at 978 Boylston Street and the Wegmans at 200 Boylston Street. Additionally, Newton HHS has provided vaccinations to first responders.

Infectious diseases expert and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Boston University Dr. Benjamin Linas said that the three-phase plan was designed with the right intentions. 

“The most important thing to a fair distribution process is that the priorities are clear and that we follow them,” he said. “We will disagree on who should go first and second, but as long as the priorities are clear and transparent, and we can agree that they are based on trying to help the public, as opposed to the people making the decisions, then I would say that they are fair.”

 Dr. Thomas Barber, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and specialist in infectious diseases, said that in practice, however, the plan is inequitable.

“The sequential phases of vaccination to higher-risk populations before lower-risk populations is well thought-out,” he said. “But in practice we have seen that some VIPs jump the line, and many members of marginalized groups have been either neglected or are wary about taking these products.”

Junior Jocelyn Peller said that she would be more likely to return to school after vaccination rates increase.

“The vaccine will make South a safer place,” she said. “I would feel a lot better going into school after receiving the vaccine and knowing that everyone else has too.” 

Chemistry teacher Teresa Marshall said that vaccines are the first step in getting schools back in person.

The progression of vaccinations, however, will take time. Linas said that the process of distributing vaccines is more difficult than it may appear. 

“Once we invent a new technology or treatment, like the vaccine, we tend to celebrate the accomplishment and say that we have done it — as if organizing a two-dose vaccine for 200 million people in the U.S. is not hard at all,” he said. “The COVID-19 vaccine is one of the greatest single achievements of human ingenuity and science, but it is just frozen goo if it sits in freezers.”

Youngblood said that she hopes the vaccine will catalyze a return to “normalcy.”

“The vaccine is a critical tool in fighting this pandemic,” she said. “As more and more people become vaccinated, and we continue to learn more about the virus and transmission, we can expect that we will most likely be able to slowly resume normal activities.”