Council on Aging director describes chaotic vaccine rollout

Sudden shift in rollout timeline caused confusion, frustration

WESTFIELD- Council on Aging Executive Director Tina Gorman said that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout process has been frustrating in recent weeks with sudden changes to the timeline for certain individuals to become eligible to receive the shot.

Gorman said during the Council on Aging meeting Feb. 8 that the local boards of health and councils on aging were told in the middle of January that Massachusetts residents aged 75 and up would be eligible for the vaccine at the end of February. 

Suddenly, Gov. Charlie D. Baker changed the plan, and those 75 and older were made eligible three weeks earlier than anticipated, with only one week of notice for local health departments. 

Gorman said that Westfield’s Board of Health applied to receive 100 doses of the vaccine per week so that they could administer a limited number of vaccines. 

“What transpired was, in my opinion, nothing short of a disaster,” said Gorman, “It was a rollout plan for people who are not computer savvy, and required people to sign up on a computer.”

Gorman pointed out that these problems are not unique to Westfield. Similar complaints about the vaccine rollout have been reported in other municipalities in Massachusetts and across the country.

Gorman described chaos, saying that the phone lines were ringing off the hook in her office as families scrambled to get their older loved ones a COVID-19 vaccine. She said that the process was even difficult for her to figure out, let alone somebody who did not grow up with computer literacy. 

“Our biggest complaint is that we needed a phone system for people who aren’t computer savvy,” said Gorman, “It was poor planning, and the [Councils on Aging directors] let the Office of Elder Affairs know how we felt about it.”

Gorman said that some legislators jumped to support a phone system for the vaccine sign up process. 

She also pointed out that, for now, the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is low, and the most that any single municipality in Massachusetts will receive is 100 doses per week. Though Gorman said that there are other ways for one to receive the vaccine. Local pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens have begun to receive doses to be given to those who are eligible. The Eastfield Mall in Springfield has also opened up as the only mass vaccination site in Western Massachusetts. 

In recent days complaints have been reported of people being made to wait outside in freezing temperatures with little social distancing at the Eastfield Mall site. Gorman said that the Eastfield Mall site is likely the best option right now for eligible people to even get an appointment to receive their shot. The other options, she said, are filling up rapidly. 

Though the supply is low, Gorman said she expects that production will continue to ramp up, and the allotted supply for individual municipalities will increase over time.

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