TEWKSBURY — The Town of Tewksbury and the Tewksbury Health Department had been trying to secure vaccines for residents for many weeks prior to the announcement by the Baker administration that doses would no longer be distributed on the municipal level.
Town Nurse Urvi Agarwalla had been filling out paperwork and using the state’s PrepMod system to reserve the vaccines and request 100 doses. PrepMod is a state contractor that is handling the appointment management for the vaccine.
The health department moved quickly to supply training information and a vaccine agreement form which was requested in order to get the town ready to administer vaccines to qualifying residents.
When Agarwalla didn’t hear back, she emailed the state looking for Tewksbury’s confirmation of dosage request. There was no reply. As part of the rapidly changing landscape, the state then changed the process for requests and Agarwalla promptly requested 250 doses.
She received a confirmation but that was all; no delivery date, no other information. In the meantime, Tewksbury wanted to mobilize plans for a clinic for people to receive doses. Even if there were only 100 vaccines, it would be helpful for the 75-year old and above population that was considered a priority for the state.
Since that time, the state has expanded prioritization to include those age 65 and older, and those with two or more co-morbidities.
Agarwalla worked with the Council on Aging (Tewksbury Senior Center) to arrange the logistics for the planned vaccine clinic.
“We had a layout, had coordinated with the police and fire department, and were ready to send phone messages to our 75+ residents… and we never got to do that,” said Agarwalla.
Tewksbury has over 2,500 residents over the age of 75.
The clinic was scheduled for Feb. 12, but on Feb. 10 Agarwalla learned that the vaccines destined for Tewksbury had been sent to Deerfield.
“If I hadn’t called to find out when the vaccines were arriving and where they were being delivered to, I would have never known,” she said.
On top of that, Agarwalla learned from Deerfield that there were only 40 doses slated for Tewksbury. Then Agarwalla learned that the Tewksbury doses had been mistakenly forwarded on to a regional vaccine center in Greenfield.
Agarwalla received an order cancellation notice shortly thereafter.
“We were all ready to go; it was a real disappointment,” Agarwalla said.
According to Ray Barry, Board of Health chairperson, the misshipment of Tewksbury’s first (and only) allotment of COVID-19 vaccine calls into question how well the state is handling the distribution of vaccines state-wide. Barry believes the state should be required to report the number of vaccine doses that were delivered each week, and where they were sent.
The Executive Office of Health and Human Services issued a letter on Thursday, Feb. 17 that 20 communities considered high risk were going to receive the vaccine, and that the overall process was going to shift to a regional distribution model, away from the municipal level.
Barry was interviewed by The Boston Globe and Bloomberg Business News Radio regarding the issue.
Said Barry, “The state keeps changing with no input from local health departments.”
According to him, local boards of health have established relationships with residents, especially seniors.
“They rely on us for flu clinics,” Barry shared as an example.
Moving the vaccine distribution to a regional model has been met with strong criticism from community leaders around the Commonwealth. According to Agarwalla, there is still no guidance for vaccine distribution to homebound seniors in the community.
“The vaccines are fragile and a strategy has to be developed to determine if we will go house to house or use a mobile van — we don’t think we will know until mid-March,” she said.
For residents seeking vaccines, it is suggested they call 211, use the state’s vaccine finder at vaxfinder.ma.gov, the state’s hotline (877) 211-6277, which also has interpreter services, and TTY service (508) 370-4890.