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Doses of the Pfizer vaccine ready for injection at the vaccine clinic in North Adams.

State Launches Call Center for COVID-19 Vaccination Appointments

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — The state Friday launched a call center for residents to schedule appointments for a COVID-19 vaccination, but officials cautioned that it is only intended for those who either do not have Internet access or who have trouble accessing the appointment scheduling website.
 
Starting Friday, trained operators will be accessible by dialing 211 and choosing the option, "For help with scheduling a vaccine appointment," Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Friday morning.
 
The call center will be available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will have more than 500 staffers on the line. Representatives will be available in English and Spanish and have access to translators in 100 additional languages, Baker said.
 
Also Friday, Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders announced the start of a statewide ad campaign aimed at residents who are hesitant about the vaccine. The "Trust the Facts, Get the Vax" campaign will air ads on television, radio and social media platforms in multiple languages and will have a high profile "kickoff" during the pregame show for Sunday's Super Bowl.
 
Residents currently eligible to receive the vaccine are encouraged to continue using mass.gov/covidvaccine to find appointments, and as of Friday at 11:30 a.m., there were 20,000 appointments available for next week at the commonwealth's three "mass vaccination" sites, including Springfield's Eastfield Mall, Baker said.
 
The call center was established to help anyone who cannot schedule an appointment online.
 
"This resource is aimed at helping residents 75 and older," Baker said. "We expect this call center today will experience high volume, so people may need to wait in a line. Once connected, they will be asked to confirm that they are 75 and older and that they have trouble using the website."
 
Baker said the call center operators will not have access to any additional appointments that are not available through the site. In fact, the operators will make appointments for callers on the same website that users can access online themselves.
 
If a caller reaches an operator only to find no vaccination appointments are available within a reasonable distance to their home, they will be asked if they want to be placed on a callback list, Baker said.
 
"We believe this resource will be a huge help to folks over 75 who may not have access to the internet or have trouble using the website," Baker said. "I still recommend using the website because you may experience, as this thing gets going, significant delays using the call center."
 
He also said he expects the call center to remain an option for residents as the state progresses in its phased rollout of vaccinations — at the very least to accommodate residents in the 65 and older population, who currently are slated to be in the second group of Phase 2, or the next population in the queue after the 75 and older population.
 
In response to a question about the call center's hours of availability, Baker said the state considered expanded hours but thought limiting it to "business hours" is the way to go.
 
"We want to make sure that it's staffed appropriately and has the number of people we need on it to answer calls as they come in," Baker said. "Most folks are making calls for this type of thing during the day. I think our view is it's better to have a ton of people on during the day when the vast majority of people are reaching out than to spread that community into the evening when call volume would be significantly less."
 
Baker said the public service campaign "Trust the Facts, Get the Vax" was developed based on a survey of 1,000 residents and in consultation with a diverse group of experts in public health messaging.
 
"[The survey] oversampled people of color and communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19," Baker said. "We wanted to know what barriers exist for people who are hesitant, who actually is hesitant about this and how to break through the myths that are out there."
 
A diverse group of doctors will be featured in the campaign's public service announcements, Baker said.
 
"While 47 percent of those surveyed were confident in the vaccine and eager to get vaccinated, 53 percent had concerns that ranged from taking a 'wait and see' approach to more hesitancy," Sudders said. "Survey data also confirmed that the most trusted sources were one's health-care provider.
 
"Not surprisingly, people of color and people in lower socio-economic status were disproportionately represented in that majority that is taking a wait-and-see approach or were more hesitant. The 47 percent 'early adopters' who were eager to get vaccinated were predominantly white and more affluent."

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Williamstown Trust OKs Emergency Mortgage Program; O'Connor Won't Seek Re-Election

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday decided to move ahead with an emergency mortgage assistance program for residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, approved a solution for a problem vexing a different town committee and learned that one of its members will be rotating off after May's town election.
 
The board member in question is Anne O'Connor, who made her colleagues on that panel the first to learn that she will not seek another three-year term on the Select Board this spring.
 
O'Connor, who occupies the trustee position designated for a member of the Select Board, noted that she brings a particular perspective to her work with the trust and all her town service: that of a resident who is a lifelong renter and who lives in Williamstown housing that was created to be affordable.
 
"Hopefully, I've also brought some reflections and useful comments as much as possible," O'Connor said.
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