Cape Offering Educator-Only Vaccination Days

BOSTON (State House News Service) — Educators and school staff on Cape Cod will be able to get vaccinated at dedicated, locally-operated clinics on each of the next three Saturdays, a local spin on the Baker administration's plans to set aside days for school staff to be vaccinated at mass vaccination sites in the coming weeks.

While also raising concerns about the detection of a new infectious COVID-19 variant, Barnstable County officials announced Thursday that their region's vaccine collaborative plans to offer immunizations exclusively to K-12 and early child care workers on March 20, March 27 and April 3.

The start of the effort precedes the first of four exclusive days for school staff to be vaccinated at any of the state's seven mass vaccination by one week, buoyed by an increase in supply headed to Barnstable County. Local leaders also added another feature: they reached out to educators across the Cape's 15 towns to find those who have yet to receive vaccines.

Based on a survey of superintendents in each of the region's districts, officials found that about 900 of the more than 6,000 educators still need access to the immunization.

"We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to provide access to K-12 educators, to support staff and to early educators," said Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat, during a Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force call on Thursday. "With these three dedicated clinics made possible by Cape Cod Healthcare and Barnstable County, we're going to be doing just that."

The Cape Cod Community College site will run its school-specific clinics from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Consortium officials believe many teachers in Barnstable County have already been vaccinated at retail pharmacies such as CVS, but they hope their proactive effort to reach out to educators and support staff will close any remaining gaps.

About 270 workers contacted by the consortium have already signed up to receive vaccines this Saturday. Cape Cod Healthcare CEO Michael Lauf said the clinic has capacity to scale up to more than 700 doses per day if necessary.

The Baker administration plans to hold educator-only days at the state's seven mass vaccination sites on March 27, April 3, April 10 and April 11, and it encouraged local officials to adopt similar models.

Lauf said during Thursday's call that an increase in available supply this week prompted the decision to launch starting Saturday.

"The intent of the consortium all along has been to target specific people that were vulnerable or vital to the success of our community," he said. "When we got additional vaccine in, we immediately reached out to the consortium and said, 'We have it, our team's ready and available and willing to work the weekend, let's get in front of it and let's start the teachers early.'"

"There's a degree of nimbleness about us," Lauf added about the consortium. "We make decisions, we act on them, and we communicate well, and we're all partners, so it's easy to accomplish great things when you have everybody on the same page."

Sean O'Brien, director of Barnstable County's Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment, said during Thursday's call that the state Department of Public Health informed his department that Barnstable County will receive a threefold increase in doses.

The county will now start getting 3,510 weekly vaccine doses, up from 1,170, O'Brien said.

"That means we'll be increasing our number of clinics, we'll start opening things up and there will be more slots available for people to get vaccinated," he said.

Thursday's announcement came one day after Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled the eligibility schedule for the rest of the population. Essential workers and residents 60 and older can start booking appointments on Monday. Those 55 and older or with one underlying health condition gain eligibility April 5, and then all adults 16 and older will qualify starting April 19.

Cape officials are still planning outreach efforts for workers next in line, but Cyr said that he expects it will be "something similar to how we've gone about reaching K-12 teachers and early educators and staff."

Despite the growing feeling that a finish line is in sight, lawmakers and health care officials warned on Thursday's call that the presence of COVID-19 variants in Massachusetts continues to pose major risks.

The Baker administration on Tuesday announced that it officially detected the P.1 variant of COVID-19, first identified in Brazil, in a Barnstable County woman.

"This is a great concern," Cyr said. "P.1 is a variant that is infectious, and the P.1. variant may also be possible to reinfect those who have already had a COVID-19 infection, so we are watching this very closely. This is the first confirmed variant of P.1. that has been detected here, and it likely indicates a broader spread of P.1 in Barnstable County and across the commonwealth."

Barnstable County also saw an "uptick" in new cases over the past week after a period of steady declines, according to Vaira Harik, deputy director of the county's Department of Human Services.

Written by Chris Lisinski

WBZ NewRadio's Tim Dunn (@ConsiderMeDunn) reports on the story:

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