A statewide push to vaccinate the roughly 25,000 homebound residents in Massachusetts who still have not received doses will begin next week, enlisting scores of local health departments to help reach those who cannot access the immunization, the Baker administration announced Thursday.

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The homebound vaccination effort will kick off Monday, March 29, using both local offices and a centralized service run by the non-profit Commonwealth Care Alliance. Baker administration officials have already tested it in a “soft launch” this week.

In 168 communities together representing about 40 percent of the state’s population, local boards of health will operate the program for their own residents. The alliance will manage vaccines for homebound residents in the other 183 municipalities.

“The homebound program is another example of how we’re working to bring the vaccine to residents so that, for whatever reason, if they need more support to access vaccines, we can work with our collaborative partners to make it available,” Gov. Charlie Baker said at a Thursday press conference.

Individuals who face significant difficulties getting to a pharmacy, health care center or one of the state’s mass vaccination sites, those who require an ambulance or two-person assistance to leave home, and those who could not leave home for medical appointments before COVID-19 will qualify to receive doses where they live.

Homebound residents or their loved ones can call 1-833-983-0485 to begin the process of scheduling an in-home vaccine appointment. The line will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., available in English and Spanish and with translators available for other languages.

Those who are not eligible to receive a shot at home will be instead connected with other resources such as the 2-1-1 call center to schedule a vaccine appointment.

Doses will be administered by medical professionals, and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said officials will use the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for homebound individuals, which is “easier to transport, requires no ultra-cold storage temperatures, and requires only one appointment.”

Federal officials recently informed the Baker administration that it will send Massachusetts a one-time allocation of 40,800 J&J doses next week, of which about 10,000 will go to in-home vaccinations, Sudders said.

“It just seemed like the right time,” Sudders said of launching the at-home effort. “We needed J&J. J&J is one of the things that gives the ability to just roll this out, and up until this point, we’ve had a limited amount of J&J, but this bonus of 41,000 that’s coming in for next week, one time, really allows us to implement the homebound program.”

In the past five weeks, CCA has administered doses to more than 500 of its homebound members and will now work to expand its efforts, CCA Vice President of Clinical Services Kelli Barrieau said at the press conference.

Municipal health departments will play a central role in the homebound campaign for the 168 communities where they will offer shots. Their deployment comes after some municipal officials and state lawmakers criticized the Baker administration for not embracing disaster plans developed by local health officials before the pandemic hit.

“Local boards of health have been partners in the fight against COVID, and their close relationship with their communities make them uniquely well-equipped to support homebound vaccination,” Baker said Thursday.

For the week from March 22 to March 29, Massachusetts received 330,000 first and second vaccine doses from the federal government, 7,900 of which are the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

The federal government also directed about 140,000 additional vaccines directly to pharmacies and community health centers.

Massachusetts began the next segment of its vaccine rollout on Monday, when eligibility expanded to residents 60 and older and certain groups of essential workers.

Those 55 and older or with one underlying health condition putting them at greater risk from COVID-19 will become eligible on April 5, and everyone else in the general public can begin booking appointments starting April 19.

(Copyright (c) 2024 State House News Service.

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