Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Frank J. Manning Apartments stands tall at left over an array of architectural styles near Central Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A campaign to bring Covid-19 vaccine to tenants in public housing developments for the elderly and disabled has begun to show results. On Thursday the Cambridge Public Health Department will vaccinate residents of Manning Apartments in their 205-unit building in Central Square. On Friday, tenants at the 297-unit Millers River Apartments in East Cambridge will get the vaccine onsite.

The two developments are among the city’s largest public housing developments for seniors and the disabled. Chief public health officer Claude Jacob announced the news to city councillors Wednesday, at a meeting delayed from Monday by snow. He didn’t say how the public health department came up with enough vaccine for the two buildings after previously saying a state decision to cut vaccine allocations to local health departments prevented onsite vaccinations in public and private affordable senior housing.

At the council meeting, Jacob stressed repeatedly that the department hasn’t received sufficient vaccine from the state to vaccinate a broader swath of Cambridge residents by establishing public vaccination clinics – the state has cut allocations to 100 doses a week, while the city continues to request 500. Jacob said the department believes a CambridgeSide mall Covid-19 testing site could support vaccinating 500 residents a day, and the agency is assessing  its other testing locations as vaccination sites.

With sufficient vaccine, the health department could also vaccinate approximately 3,000 public school teachers and other staff when they become eligible later in Phase 2 of the state vaccination plan, Jacob said.

Cambridge Housing Authority executive director Michael Johnston said the health department had notified the authority Wednesday that it had enough vaccine for Manning tenants. Plans for Millers River materialized later Wednesday, Johnston said.

After an outcry from affordable housing managers and advocates statewide, state officials said last week that they might distribute additional vaccine to localities if low-income senior housing operators and “partners” that could administer the shots, such as local health departments, applied for a specific number of doses. Cambridge legislators Mike Connolly and Marjorie Decker, as well as Cambridge city councillors, pressed the state to enable onsite vaccinations for low-income elderly and disabled tenants.

Help of the Health Alliance

Johnston said a nurse assigned to Manning had surveyed tenants “door to door” this week to get an estimate of how many residents would accept a vaccine. The preparation was “very quick and last minute,” he said.

The health department and CHA have applied for 967 more doses to vaccinate residents at the authority’s other developments for the elderly and disabled, Johnston said.

Another vaccination provider has also stepped up to immunize public housing residents onsite: the Cambridge Health Alliance. The Alliance, a major provider of care to low-income and uninsured patients, is going to public housing sites in Cambridge and Somerville to vaccinate its patients 75 and older who cannot leave their homes, spokesman David Cecere said. Details weren’t available; CHA’s Elder Service Plan for frail elders operates in some Cambridge public housing developments for seniors, but it wasn’t clear whether the vaccinations were part of the Elder Service Plan program.

Frustrating system

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has been under fire for the state’s complicated online vaccine appointment system, which has frustrated many elders and their younger relatives trying to help them. Baker has promised to establish a phone number for appointments; so far there is none. On Wednesday the governor said 120,000 additional appointment slots will be available this week, 55,000 at mass vaccination sites such as Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

Although there is no public vaccination site in Cambridge open to anyone 75 and older, the top priority in Phase 2 of the state vaccination plan, patients of Mount Auburn Hospital can get an appointment to be vaccinated at the Marino Center in North Cambridge. Decker said Wednesday that a CVS pharmacy in the city will begin offering vaccinations on Feb. 11. CVS did not disclose the location.

The state has prioritized mass vaccination sites, hospitals and pharmacies in distributing doses. One result is that the largest independent physician network in the state, Atrius Health, has not received vaccine for its 40,000 patients who are 75 and older. Atrius includes clinics in Cambridge and Somerville. It has told patients it won’t have vaccine until at least mid-February.