Policy Issue

Policy Watch: COVID19 Vaccine Rollout Explained

February 19, 2021

There are lots of questions about the rollout of COVID vaccinations in Massachusetts - why are certain groups included while others must wait? Why is the state relying on mass vaccination sites rather than local public health agencies? And what is being done to reduce vaccine hesitancy among at-risk groups?

With vaccine supply continuing to be limited, the state has been following the guidance of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) about how to prioritize groups. A state COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group made recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Governor about how to prioritize distribution of the vaccine in the Commonwealth, carefully considering the work of NASEM and ACIP. The Advisory Group included medical professionals, public health experts, community leaders, elected officials, and infectious disease specialists. The three primary goals of the Advisory Group’s recommendations were to: preserve the health care system; limit severe morbidity and mortality; and promote equity. Click here to see the state's phases for vaccine distribution.

The decision to launch mass vaccination sites vs. local public health agencies is a bit more complicated. It appears that the strategy is to ensure more capacity for rapid deployment of the vaccine. With additional mass vaccination sites coming online, the state is trying to ensure that over 90% of residents are in close proximity to a mass vaccination site. The problem with this strategy is that it leaves out two important vaccine distribution groups that have close connections and trusting relationships with those seeking shots - local public health departments and primary care practices.

Addressing vaccine hesitancy is work that everyone needs to do. While the state has launched a campaign to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, local agencies and community leaders can and should share accurate, clear, and concise information to alleviate concerns among the broader population as we wait for more groups to become eligible for shots. 

In addition to accuracy, public health advocates should take care to frame vaccines using language that highlights their benefits and is tailored to specific audiences. Reasons for hesitancy vary and are often accompanied by strong emotions. Fear or distrust of the medical system, religious beliefs, or simple misunderstandings about what went into the development of vaccines through Operation Warp Speed are some examples. Simple and clear messages are the most powerful tools public health advocates can employ at this time. 

Tools for finding vaccination sites, tips on messaging, and shareable media are included on our website. The "Resources Related to COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccine Hesitancy" page will be updated as more resources become available.

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