In a bid to get more residents age 75 and older vaccinated, Massachusetts officials say they will also inoculate the people accompanying them, regardless of age, to mass vaccination sites, which can be confusing to navigate.
“The idea for a mass vaccination site can seem a bit daunting,” Marylou Sudders, the secretary for health and human services in Massachusetts, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The knowledge that the person accompanying them to the vaccination site will also be inoculated, Ms. Sudders said, may “bring an extra level of comfort to those who may be hesitant or don’t want to bother their caregiver or loved one or a good friend to book an appointment.”
Massachusetts has administered almost a million vaccine doses at nearly 130 sites statewide, said Gov. Charlie Baker. About 10 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 2.8 percent have received two doses, according to a New York Times tracker.
Starting on Thursday, companions can schedule their vaccine along with that of the older resident.
Joan Hatem-Roy, the chief executive of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, a nonprofit group in northeastern Massachusetts, called the idea “a game changer.”
“I get nervous going to a Patriots game at Gillette, so I can imagine a senior trying to think about going to Gillette Stadium,” one of the vaccination sites, Ms. Hatem-Roy said.
Some expressed concern that younger people who are less susceptible to serious illness from the virus might be vaccinated before people who are 65 or older or who have chronic health conditions. But Mr. Baker said the immediate goal was to make sure people 75 and older are vaccinated.
“Those communities are far more likely to lose their life and get hospitalized as a result of Covid,” he said. “We want to make sure that we make it as easy as we possibly can for folks who fall into that over-75 category to get vaccinated and to get vaccinated early in this process.”
The state’s decision to vaccinate companions came as a surprise to Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, who said Massachusetts had not moved as quickly as he had expected on vaccinations. He said he would rather see more vulnerable groups be deemed eligible for the vaccination first and for any transportation issues to be resolved without companions getting shots.
“I do know that the governor is feeling a lot of pressure to improve the performance in the state,” Dr. Jha said. “That may be part of the motivation for doing this, because it will certainly bump up those numbers.”
He did not expect other states to follow suit — at least not right away. But Dr. Jha said it might be different in April or May, when the vaccine supply may outweigh the demand.
In some places, a similar model has been tried on a smaller scale.
In Albemarle County, Va., 70 caregivers and family care providers for people with intellectual disabilities were vaccinated, according to local affiliate NBC29. In Texas, older and disabled residents said they wanted their home health workers to be vaccinated, but many workers were declining the inoculation, according to The Texas Tribune.
With fraud already popping up in vaccines, tests and stimulus checks, Dr. Jha worried that scammers might try to use the new Massachusetts program to take advantage of older residents.
“I don’t know how you carefully police that,” he said. “There are bad actors who may try to manipulate this.”
Ms. Sudders offered her own warning on Wednesday, urging older residents’ not to accept offers from strangers to be their vaccine companions.