Low doses: Hampshire County getting fewest number of vaccine doses per capita in state

  • Hampshire County is receiving fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses to provide to residents, on a per capita basis, than any other county in Massachusetts. Here, Karen Newton, left, a pharmacist at Walgreens, administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Lathrop Retirement Community resident Marney Smith, 88, right after Smith’s husband, Fred Smith, 96, at right, received his shot during a vaccine clinic at the senior living community in Easthampton on Jan. 18. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2021 4:09:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Hampshire County is receiving fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses to provide to residents, on a per capita basis, than any other county in Massachusetts, based on the latest information from the state’s Department of Public Health.

With concerns about access to the vaccine, and the prioritization the state has given to mass vaccination sites, Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and State Rep Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, recently drafted a letter, signed by 54 legislators, that encourages public health officials to adjust how the vaccines are being allocated.

In the letter sent Thursday to Marylou Sudders, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, elected representatives are asking that priority for vaccine distribution be given to regional collaborative sites like the one at the Northampton Senior Center on Conz Street.

“They are the best suited to reach our constituents and those facing transportation challenges,” the legislators write. “They have prepared to scale their work to reach their maximum capacity. Our constituents and municipalities have expressed interest and, in many cases, a preference for these local, familiar sites.”

Comerford said Sunday that her concern is not only about the doses of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being provided in both Hampshire and Franklin counties, but that the state is not trusting the experience of local public health officials in getting shots into people’s arms.

“The region is falling behind in terms of vaccines,” Comerford said.

As the Senate chairwoman of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, Comerford said an oversight hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Based on the most recent data released Thursday, the 42,888 doses shipped to Massachusetts providers in the county as of March 16 makes Hampshire County the lowest, on a per capita basis, of all counties in the state. As a percentage of the population, the amount of doses shipped to Hampshire County is 26%.

Berkshire County at 55%, Hampden County at 44% and Franklin County at 38% all have received more supply of vaccines based on their populations.

Even with the comparatively low amount of doses, it appears Hampshire County residents are still doing OK so far in terms of getting vaccinated, with 24% of the population receiving at least one dose. While that is smaller than the 30% receiving one dose in Berkshire and 27% in Franklin, it exceeds the 20% getting at least one dose in Hampden and 22% in Worcester.

But legislators caution this may not be an accurate reflection of the situation and that inequity in receiving the vaccine is likely to grow.

“I think we should be very concerned about the number of doses coming into the county, even though our vaccination rate is not significantly lower than other counties in the state,” said state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton.

The initial numbers, Sabadosa said, reflect health care workers, people at long-term care facilities and police officers and firefighters, all of whom were given easy access to the vaccine either at their place of work or at clinics set up locally.

Yet the Northampton site, which works with a satellite site in Amherst, is not getting the full supply it should be receiving.

“That clinic has not once received the 750 doses a day that they have the infrastructure to provide, as required by the state,” Sabadosa said.

Comerford said she would also like to see the vaccination site at the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts get more doses of vaccine.

If the doses provided to Hampshire County remain low, regional inequities will eventually further exacerbate the racial disparities.

“Unless the state provides a more equitable distribution of vaccines quickly, we will start to see socio-economic factors playing an even greater role in who gets vaccinated and where,” Sabadosa said.

Domb said the local supply of vaccine is critical for her constituents in Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 in Granby.

“For residents in my district and across the county who do not have their own vehicles, and who may not be comfortable going, or driving, to unfamiliar places, this could present an access issue,” Domb said.

Domb notes that people who live in the county but work in professions that were in earlier phases of vaccine distribution, such as first responders and hospital professionals, got to access vaccine closer to their homes and workplaces.

Comerford said constituents are already reaching out to her and she will focus on making distribution more equitable and have the regional sites get to full capacity.

“The truth is we’ll stay on it,” Comerford said. “We haven’t yet made the gains we need to.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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