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State Program to Bring COVID-19 Vaccines to Homebound Residents

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com
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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced a statewide program to vaccinate about 25,000 homebound Massachusetts residents in their homes.
 
The homebound vaccination program will consist of visits coordinated by local boards of health or through the Commonwealth Care Alliance, Baker said during his COVID-19 update on Beacon Hill.
 
"As we continue to roll out the vaccination program, we always knew there are individuals for whom we would have to go to them," Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said. "Whether it's in certain communities … or individuals who are homebound. The federal government came out with some definitions of 'homebound,' but we've been working with the Commonwealth Care Alliance, and since they're a health plan, they have done this very successfully with 500 members they have in their Duals program.
 
"And we needed J&J. J&J is one of the things that gives us the ability to roll this out. Up until this point, we've had a limited amount of J&J. But this bolus that's coming in next week of 41,000, a one-time shipment, allows us to implement the homebound program."
 
Sudders said she expects about 10,000 of the commonwealth's upcoming allotment of 41,000 Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines will be allocated to the homebound vaccination program. In addition to requiring only one shot, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored and transported more easily, making it ideal for a mobile program.
 
Sudders said the state surveyed all the local boards of health to get their level of interest in administering the program. About 170 opted in, saying they will deliver shots to their community's homebound residents; the rest of the commonwealth's 351 municipalities, representing about 60 percent of Massachusetts' population, will be served by Commonwealth Care Alliance, Sudders said.
 
Laura Kittross of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association on Thursday said she knows of no local boards of health in the county that will be administering vaccines to homebound residents on their own.
 
"The state program will have dedicated staff, dedicated vaccine and a dedicated hotline, so it seemed a no-brainer to take advantage of it," Kittross said. "Providing vaccine that has strict time and temperature requirements to homebound in a rural area has a lot of challenges, and hope that the state contractor has the resources to overcome those challenges.
 
"Obviously, we'll be keeping a close eye on the program to ensure our residents are being served. But the Berkshire Vaccine Team, which is the regional partnership providing vaccines in the county, felt this was the way to go, and, as far as I know, no municipality has felt otherwise."
 
Commonwealth Care Alliance Vice President of Clinical Operations Kelli Barrieau joined Baker and Sudders at Thursday's news conference.
 
"As a not-for-profit community health care organization, Commonwealth Care Alliance has been focused throughout the pandemic on putting people first as we prioritize the health and safety of individuals with significant needs, including developing the first protocols for administering vaccines in the home," Barreiau said. "Building upon more than 40 years of providing care in people's homes, we've been able to deliver vaccines to more than 500 of our homebound members in the past five weeks, and we are proud to be able to expand these efforts."
 
Baker said homebound Bay Staters can call 1-844-771-1628 to schedule a visit. The call center will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Operators will be available to speak English or Spanish, and translators will be available for 100 other languages, Baker said.
 
"There is a screening process," Sudders said when asked how the commonwealth will ensure that the people seeking home visits are truly homebound. "It is meant to be as barrier-free as possible, but there is a series of questions we'll ask about where you get your care now, how do you receive it now, to screen out people who may have mobility challenges, but [are not homebound]. If you have mobility challenges, but you don't need a two-person assist or an ambulance to get to your medical appointments, we will then help figure out how to get you vaccinated [outside the home]. It is meant to be as barrier-free as possible, but there are a series of questions to queue you in."
 
Baker also announced that his administration, in concert with the legislature, will be directing $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph — four communities that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic but underfunded in the federal legislation.
 
"In response to a major shortfall in funding to certain communities under the American Rescue Plan Act, we are today announcing that the commonwealth will allocate more funding to the communities that were left behind by that legislation," Baker said.
 
Massachusetts expects to receive about $7.9 billion in direct aid, and $3.4 billion of that will go directly to counties, cities and towns, Baker said. But because of how the federal law was designed, four large Eastern Mass communities are slated to receive less than their fair share, Baker said.
 
"When you look at the numbers, just generally, when you have what I would describe as relatively better-off financially communities getting $70, $80, $90 million dollars and you have places like Chelsea and Everett and Methuen and Randolph who have been hit pretty hard by the pandemic and don't have the kind of resources many of these other communities have and they're getting $6, $7, $8 million, it was pretty clear there was a problem," Baker said. "We began a series of conversations with the leaders of those communities to figure out how to frame what we might do together to solve it."

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Baker: Pause in Johnson & Johnson Vaccines Shows System is Working

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com
BOSTON -- Gov. Charlie Baker Wednesday said the FDA’s decision to recommend pausing distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was a positive.
 
“I would argue, in some respects, the decision the FDA and CDC made here based on six cases out of 7 million [doses distributed] to put a pause on this and take a look at it is an example of the system working the way it should,” Baker said. “In an abundance of caution, they put out the word that, ‘We need to take a look at this,’ and that’s what they’re doing.
 
Baker referred back to an incident earlier this month when problems were reported at a Johnson & Johnson vaccine production site.
 
“I got asked the same question after Baltimore,” Baker said. “Baltimore, to me, is the same thing. It’s pretty clear these guys saw there was an issue, stopped it, ran an investigation. That’s what you want the process to be.”
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