By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) – Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday the state will work to distribute the COVID vaccine to Massachusetts residents in three phases beginning in December.

The first round of coronavirus vaccine shipments to Massachusetts is scheduled to begin around December 15. That shipment will include 59,475 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine that will be delivered to 21 hospitals in eight counties, and to the Department of Public Health immunization lab.

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From there, doses will be sent to 74 hospitals in 14 counties for frontline workers.

The next 40,000 doses will be distributed to the Federal Pharmacy Program for staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, rest homes, and assisting living residences.

The state said its plan is based on the federal government’s approval of the vaccine.

“Vaccines will be safe, and no one would distribute them if they weren’t,” said Baker.

Dr. Paul Biddinger, Chair of Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, detailed the multiple layers of review the vaccine has undergone and said residents should feel confident it is safe.

“We feel we’re in a very good position to have confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” Biddinger said. “The bar for approval of vaccines is the highest of any of the therapeutics that come through our regulatory system,” he said.

Health officials said that based on current information, Massachusetts expects to receive 300,000 first doses of the vaccine by the end of December. The vaccine will require people to take two doses 3-4 weeks apart.

By March, Massachusetts expected to receive and distribute over 2 million doses to “priority population.”

“The vaccine will be distributed in phases, starting with our highest risk and highest need individuals,” said Baker, who said communities of color and at-risk populations are prioritized under the plan.

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“It is a piece of history,” said Rev. Liz Walker, a member of the governor’s vaccine advisory group. “In phase two of the distribution, a 20% increase in vaccine will be allocated to communities that have experienced a disproportionate COVID-19 burden,” she said.

The news gives hope to residents in assisted living facilities that have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. “I have a birthday coming up, and so I thought, well, this is a great birthday present for me,” said Mercy Wheeler, who lives at Wingate Residences at Needham. “I feel like I’m lucky too, that I’m going to be one of the first ones to get it.”

She hopes it means she’s closer to getting back the one thing she misses most. “I think I’d really like to get together with all of my family and give each other a great big hug.”

Cambridge-based Modera and Pfizer have both submitted their two-dose vaccine candidates for emergency FDA authorization, and approval is anticipated within days.

The vaccine will be free of charge and will not cost any out-of-pocket fees. The timeline for distribution is as follows:

Phase One (December 2020-February 2021):

  • Clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers doing direct and COVID-facing care
  • Long term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities
  • Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services
  • Congregate care settings (including shelters and corrections)
  • Home-based healthcare workers
  • Healthcare workers doing non-COVID facing care

Phase Two (February 2021-April 2021):

  • Individuals with 2+ comorbidities (high risk for COVID-19 complications)
  • Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works and public health workers
  • Adults 65+
  • Individuals with one comorbidity

Phase Three (April 2021- ):

  • Vaccine available to general public

Baker said the state hopes to make the vaccine available to younger and healthier people later in the spring. In the meantime, he said that it is critical for residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“We’re certainly not out of the woods yet, and it’s critical that people continue following the state guidance and the preventive measures,” said Baker.

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Biddinger was asked if masks will still be needed at this time next year. He said that he believes “in six to nine months we should have reached a good chunk of the country” with the vaccine. Staff