Word that the Commonwealth intends to rely mainly on regional COVID-19 vaccination centers and partnerships with commercial distributors like CVS for inoculations during Phase 2 of the state’s rollout plan has Wellesley’s Health Department and Board of Health grappling with what their role will be in all this. Phase 2 of the rollout starts Feb. 1 for the state, which as administered nearly 450,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to date.
The Health Department successfully vaccinated first responders and town health employees earlier this month beginning on the first day it got the Moderna vaccine, but opportunities for the town to vaccinate seniors, teachers, or others is starting to look less likely, based on discussion that took place Monday during the Board of Health’s meeting, which included Wellesley School Committee and Wellesley Public School reps.
Their meeting was held just prior to Gov. Charlie Baker sharing the state’s latest vaccination numbers and plans, which included bumping teachers down a smidge on the vaccination priority list. Board of Health Vice Chair Dr. Marcia Testa Simonson was joining the meeting straight from a call with other high-level health officials, so had the skinny on what the governor was slated to announcement during his briefing, and the health department was going to be back on a call with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at the end of the day.
New information on vaccines is coming fast and furious, and vaccines were the topic of the day for the health and school officials. It has been top of mind for residents as well, according to Health Director Lenny Izzo.
“We’re getting a lot of emails, we’re getting a lot of criticism and comments around the vaccine rollout, a lot of remarks that we’re essentially hoarding or not sharing the vaccine, or opening up public clinics the way we should be,” he said. “The bottom line is just don’t have the vaccine.”
At the earliest, the town will get more vaccine mid-next week, he said, and at the most, the town will be able to request 100 doses per week, which it plans to do.
“The ball is in the state’s court right now,” Board of Health Chair Shep Cohen added.
Cities and towns across the state are receiving public health trust fund money and some have already hired people to do vaccinations, though now will perhaps have those people handle testing instead, Testa Simonson said.
It’s unclear at this point how the town or state will handle vaccines for homebound residents who may have great difficulty getting to a regional vaccination center, such as Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The town is getting plenty of calls from its senior residents who are figuring town health personnel might be swinging by with vaccines for them, even though that isn’t likely how things will work.
Testa Simonson said that one role for local public health entities could be helping people schedule their vaccines, maybe even by setting up a call center to help people navigate the system. Perhaps the Council on Aging could also play a role in this, and helping to get people to where they need to go for vaccinations, board members said.
It’s unclear whether the CVS on Rte. 9 east in Wellesley will be a COVID-19 vaccination site, but Board of Health member Linda Oliver Grape noted that it does have a nice setup there that could accommodate such activity. The site already provides COVID-19 testing.
“We’ll see what happens,” Izzo said, about the overall vaccine plan. “[The state] always seems to change course.”
Wellesley Public Schools update
Upon hearing the state’s latest vaccine distribution plans, Wellesley Public Schools Supt. Dr. David Lussier said “I’m shocked that they’re not trying to leverage local resources to get this done.” Vaccinations for staff are the highest priority for school districts everywhere, he said: “That’s really going to be a catalyst for other things we may be able to do before the end of this school year.”
Lussier expressed surprise that teachers would be bumped down (even if only slightly) on the state’s priority list in light of the governor’s push to get more kids back in physical schools. “I had hoped we could develop a partnership, a local solution that would allow our staff to be vaccinated here in the community in which they work,” he said.
The logistics of getting teachers and staff to mass vaccination sites during the school day would be challenging, and a much less nimble solution than handling things locally, Lussier said. A professional organization for superintendents to which he belongs sent a letter to the governor last week strongly encouraging him to be thinking of February vacation as a good opportunity to get teachers vaccinated. Though as Board of Health members noted, that could be tough time-wise given that there are some big groups ahead of teachers on the schedule.
Lussier posed the question of whether it might behoove the town to approach an outfit like CVS to get a vaccination plan in place for when it is the teachers’ turn.
Separately, Lussier gave an update regarding COVID-19-related efforts at the school system. He made reference to a new state program to support pool testing at schools, but that solution is more labor intensive than the one Wellesley has already been using, so not attractive to Wellesley Public Schools. Lussier is hoping that perhaps state funding might be available to WPS even though it is not using a state-approved vendor or model. WPS is shifting from private to local funding to support its viral testing program, so state relief would be more than welcome.
The school system will also be hosting a webinar on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 6:30-8pm to discuss its plans to update the Wellesley Public Reopening Measures dashboard, which health and school representatives have been working to revise in light of new knowledge about the virus and its spread. Web links will be shared soon.
Wellesley COVID-19 cases booming
Ann Marie McCauley, the town’s public health nurse supervisor, said Wellesley is getting a lot of COVID-19 cases these days. She cited 20 new ones over the weekend and 16 more Monday morning, with Babson College numbers booming upon the return of students from their winter break.
Wellesley has largely been handling contact tracing for COVID-19 cases on its own, but the higher numbers have resulted in the town sending more to the state’s Community Tracing Collaborative.
As for vaccines, the town held two clinics last week, dispensing first-round doses to first responders and school nurses.