Worcester County Lagging Behind in Vaccine Rollout


Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are displayed on a tray at a clinic. Photo courtesy of Charles Krupa.

-Tim Foley

As the efforts to immunize citizens at the state level ramps up, Central Massachusetts has been lagging behind the rest of the commonwealth in the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. There has been an issue receiving the vaccine, as well as getting it into the arms of residents.

According to data released by the Massachusetts State Government on Thursday March 18, Worcester county has received 310,814 doses of vaccine, whether it be the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson vaccines. That is enough doses to put at least one shot into the arms of just 37% of the population. This percentage ranks the county 10th in the entire state out of all 14 counties, despite having the second largest county population in MA. The county also ranks 12th in the state regarding the percentage of the population which has received at least one shot of any vaccine, currently sitting at about 22%. 

In a recent interview with WPKZ Fitchburg/Leominster, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale spoke about how acquiring the vaccine for the North Central MA area has been slow to this point.

“One of the most critical issues that prevents us from doing large scale vaccination is having the vaccine,” said DiNatale. “You’ve got everyone pointing fingers at everyone else. I’m told [the holdup] is at the federal level.” 

Having residents actually sign up for the vaccine appointments that are available has proven difficult for all state residents so far. Local legislators were calling for Governor Baker to adopt a pre registration site where residents put in their information, and are later contacted when they have an appointment assigned to them. The requests came after those in the state saw site crashes and hour long waiting times for those trying to sign up to receive a vaccine shot. The site was eventually launched on Friday March 12. 

State Representative Natalie Higgins of the 4th Worcester District recently spoke with WPKZ Fitchburg/Leominster about the recent move to the preregistration system, and why it still has some improvements that could be made. 

“The Governor finally heard our pleas about the preregistration sign up, although he kind of only met us half way with allowing this for the seven mass vaccination sites, when we don’t have one in Worcester county, nevermind North Central Mass. We’re still pushing for preregistration across all of the sites, more of a centralization of all of the locations because people are really clamoring and finding that there are three different websites that the state is using across the commonwealth, which is a problem.”

The lack of a mass vaccination site within Worcester County has been a big reason for the disparity in vaccination when compared to the whole state. Travelling out of the county to try and get vaccinated at one of the seven super sites is something that’s not viable for all Worcester County residents. The elderly populations which are now eligible and are seen as having the highest risk levels have the greatest difficulties in travelling to these sites. The nearest site is the Natick Mall, with the closest beyond that being GIllette Stadium in Foxborough and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield. 

These sites have also been the beneficiaries of receiving large shipments of vaccines, having received 15% of the total doses which have been sent to MA so far. That’s 15% of the total doses sent to MA that Worcester county has not been receiving. 

Northern Worcester County has been looking to alternatives for these mass vaccination sites to help innocculate the local population. Mayor DiNatale talked about the renovation of the Kmart at the intersection of Merriam Ave. and Route 2, and hopes to get that site up and running, but doesn’t yet have a timeline available. Renovations would have to be made to have the building meet code requirements. In the meantime, there are active, larger sites in the area such as the Heywood Hospital in Gardner, but the volume of cases it can handle leaves much to be desired for the county as it aims to catch up with the rest of the state.