Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued a warning Thursday after hearing that some people are trying to take advantage of new companion eligibility rules to get residents 75 and older to bring them to vaccination sites.
"We have heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already," Baker said. "Some are posting online trying to get seniors to bring them to a vaccination site or in some cases are asking somebody to be paid to drive someone."
The new policy, part of an effort to make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to eligible seniors, opens up vaccination opportunities to many residents who would otherwise not be eligible in the current phase of the state's vaccination plan.
"If you're 75 or older and need assistance, you should only reach out to someone you know or trust to bring you as a companion -- a child, companion, spouse, neighbor or caregiver," Baker said. "Don't take calls or offers from people you don't know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone."
He said anyone who is contacted by someone soliciting to bring them to a vaccination site should report it to the authorities.
Ads popped up on social media and other sites just hours after Baker announced the companion rule. Some are offering up to $250, while others are trying to lure seniors with free gifts.
Phil McMannis from Brookline figured taking a senior might be his best shot at a vaccine, and he posted "on Craigslist to see if there’s anyone out there who looks for help."
But it hasn’t exactly worked out, he said, pulling in no replies. He just wanted to help someone while getting himself vaccinated, but never thought others would try to take advantage of seniors.
“Having seen that now, I’m considering taking mine down because I just don’t want to be seen in that sort of light. It’s not any sort of intention I had behind it at all,” McMannis said.
State Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, said that any problems that come out of the vaccine rule change will fall on the Baker administration, calling the vaccine rollout "a complete mess" that goes beyond the safety risk for seniors.
He said he feels the rule change worsens inequalities that already existed with vaccine distribution.
"Who would have an extra $250 and an automobile and free time to go deliver a senior to a mass vaccination site? Inherently, that’s going to be someone with more privilege," Connolly said.
Speaking a day after multiple news reports indicated that hundreds of individuals waited at a state-run mass vaccination site in Danvers in hopes of receiving any leftover vaccine doses, Baker cautioned that offering vaccines to those who did not book appointments creates confusion.
Curative, the company operating the site at the DoubleTree Hotel, didn’t want the additional doses to go to waste, so workers told patients who were already registered with appointments later in the week to come to the location Wednesday to receive their vaccination, a company spokesperson said. But some people reported getting vaccinated even though they did not have an appointment and were not eligible under state guidelines.
Vaccination providers should be managing their supply so that they don’t have significant numbers of unused doses, Baker said Thursday.
"We have policies in place with respect to dosing and eligibility standards and we expect those to be adhered to," he said. "We don't believe there should be sort of a cattle call at the end of the day. People need to manage their dosing and manage their vaccine and we expect all sites to do that going forward."
Nobody wants to waste doses, Baker said, but providers have to manage doses to the appointments they have.
"In the end, you should be vaccinating the people who have appointments, so that the people who have appointments don't end up seeing something on their phone or in their email or a text message or something else that says, 'Oh my, I might not get my vaccine even though I have an appointment,'" he said. "The game here is: you have an appointment, you're going to get a vaccine."
Meanwhile, more than 53,000 appointments were posted online Thursday for mass vaccination sites for Springfield, Danvers, Gillette Stadium and Boston's Fenway Park.
Over 50,000 pharmacy appointments will be posted online by the end of this week at retailers like CVS, Walgreens, Wegman's, Big Y and Stop & Shop, 21,000 slots that went live at CVS locations Thursday.
The state will add 30 new retail pharmacy sites and two additional mass vaccination sites. There are currently more than 130 vaccination sites in Massachusetts.
There are currently five mass vaccination sites across the state; two in Boston at Fenway Park and the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, and three others at Gillette Stadium, the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
A sixth mass vaccination is scheduled to open at Worcester State University on Feb. 16. Baker announced two additional mass vaccination sites in the pipeline Wednesday; one at the Natick Mall, slated to open Feb. 22, and another two days later at an old Circuit City in Dartmouth.
The new sites will begin administering 500 doses per day and gradually increase capacity over several weeks. The Dartmouth site will scale up to about 2,000 doses a day and the Natick site, 3,000. Appointments will be able to book online beginning Thursday, Feb. 18.