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The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan in Massachusetts 

  • Massachusetts is administering COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to its Phase 1 priority group, which includes certain frontline health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, emergency medical services workers, police officers, firefighters, and people living in and working in group care settings such as homeless shelters and prisons. 
  • People at least 75 years old and other adults with at least two serious health conditions such as cancer, heart disease or chronic kidney disease are in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan. Health officials believe they’ll be able to start vaccinating this group sometime in February. Phase 2 also includes adults 65 and older, but they’re considered a lower priority than older adults and may have to wait longer to get a vaccine. Federal officials on Jan. 12 urged states to prioritize adults 65 and older and people with significant medical conditions. Gov. Charlie Baker has said that a state vaccine advisory group would consider the recommendations, but the state’s plans haven't changed yet. 
  • Vaccine news is changing quickly. Check this guide for updates in days ahead. 
Covid Vaccine Trial
Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images

When can older adults get the vaccine?  

Potentially as soon as February. People 75 and older are at the top of the state’s Phase 2 distribution group alongside people with two or more serious health conditions. Teachers, food and agriculture workers, sanitation and public health employees, judges and other court system workers are also grouped in Phase 2 though they’re further down the priority list. People 65 and up and adults of any age with one serious health condition sit at the bottom of Phase 2. They’ll have access to a vaccine before the general public but after the rest of the state’s phase 1 and 2 populations. 

Vaccines now are available to all of the state’s Phase 1 priority group, including long-term care residents and staff, health care workers who deal directly with patients, people handling and administering COVID-19 tests and vaccines, emergency medical services workers, police officers, firefighters, and people living in and working in group care settings such as homeless shelters and prisons. The state began vaccinating this group in December and is likely to continue through February, if not later. But Massachusetts is likely to open vaccines to people at the top of its Phase 2 group before it has completely vaccinated its Phase 1 population — possibly at some point in February, March or April, based on its tiered distribution timeline

Federal health officials on Jan. 12 urged states to prioritize people with serious medical conditions alongside residents 65 and older. But the request is not mandatory, and it is unclear if it will affect Massachusetts’ vaccine distribution plan. 

AARP is fighting for older Americans to be prioritized in getting COVID-19 vaccines because the science has shown that older people are at higher risk of death. 

Where can I get a vaccine? 

Initially, only at certain hospitals, health centers and long-term care facilities. People who live and work in group homes, shelters or correctional institutions will be able to get a vaccine through their place of employment. First responders such as police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services workers can find a vaccine through the state’s vaccine web portal. 

Once vaccines are more widely available, the state plans to set up mass vaccination sites. Among the first will be Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. State health officials also point to the CDC’s interactive VaccineFinder tool as a resource that eventually will allow people to find vaccination sites near them. 

The federal government announced Jan. 12 that it’s urging states to work with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute the vaccine to those eligible and to set up mass vaccination clinics, but it’s not clear when Massachusetts will do so. 

How do I know when I’m able to get a vaccine? 

The state is updating a list of who’s eligible for a vaccine and has built a rough timeline showing when certain people can expect to first have access to a vaccine. AARP recommends that you talk to your doctor about the safety, effectiveness, benefits and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. Older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, are at increased risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19.  

I’ve heard that some vaccines require a second shot.  

The initial COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses. If you get one of these vaccines, you’ll need a follow-up dose a few weeks later to be effectively immunized. “What you have is you get some degree, not optimal, but some degree of immunity a couple of weeks after the first dose,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in December. “That’s not optimal. After the second dose, you get optimal immunity anywhere from seven to 10 days after the second dose.” 

Massachusetts is likely to issue text message reminders for people who need their second dose of vaccine, according to the state’s interim vaccination plan. State health officials are expected to begin doing so by February. 

You may receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you where, when and which type of vaccine you received, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

How will nursing home and other long-term care residents get the vaccine?  

Vaccine rollout already has begun for long-term care residents in Massachusetts. The federal government has contracted with CVS and Walgreens to administer the COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to long-term care residents and staff. The two national drugstore chains say that more than 48,000 of the 50,000 skilled nursing and assisted living communities in the U.S. are participating in the program.  

Do I have to pay for the vaccination?  

AARP fought to make sure the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself. But the CDC says vaccine providers still may charge a fee for giving someone a shot. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said the vaccine will be administered free with no copays to Medicare beneficiaries. Some health insurance companies also have announced no out-of-pocket costs for policyholders.  

There are already reports of scammers purporting to offer COVID vaccines and treatments and trying to charge for them. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is tracking the latest scams.  

How long does immunity last after I get vaccinated?  

It’s not yet known how long immunity from a coronavirus vaccine lasts and whether it needs to be administered on a regular basis like the flu shot.  

Should I still wear a mask after getting vaccinated?  

Yes. Experts still need to learn more about the protection the vaccines provide under “real-life conditions,” the CDC says. It could take your body a few weeks to build up immunity after the second dose of a vaccine. And while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19, it’s not yet clear whether someone who’s been vaccinated still can catch the virus and transmit it to others.  

The vaccine is just one tool that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC says it could take months for the population to build up immunity and continues to recommend preventive measures such as face masks and social distancing. AARP also has called for ongoing monitoring of vaccines, once they are authorized for public use, to identify any risks that weren't evident in the expedited development and review process. 

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