Monday, May 27, 2024

Covid booster vaccination rates are below 25 percent in Cambridge. (Photo: City of Cambrdge)

For the first time, the city will offer a financial incentive for getting a Covid-19 shot. Officials have scheduled a clinic on Dec. 15 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the CambridgeSide mall where people who get vaccinated against Covid will get a $75 debit card, Cambridge Public Health Department spokesperson Dawn Baxter said Thursday.

The move came after city councillors unanimously voted Monday to ask for a vaccination clinic that provided a gift card. Vice mayor Alana Mallon, who sponsored the order with mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, said the promise of cash could increase the percentage of residents who have received a Covid booster, noting that “ours here in Cambridge has stayed stubbornly below 25 percent.” Councillor Patty Nolan called the booster vaccination rate “disturbingly low.”

Mallon said handing out gift cards at state-sponsored vaccination clinics has produced “an uptick” in rates. “With December and the holidays and the food and utility costs on the rise, we can really work to keep infections low by providing a cash incentive to our residents,” she said.

Siddiqui said she had asked city officials in October to offer money to people who got vaccinated. Baxter at the city health department said the city didn’t qualify for state funding for the gift-card initiative because its population is not disadvantaged and it has a “relatively high” vaccination rate. The city “is coordinating the funding and administration” of the Dec. 15 clinic at CambridgeSide, she said. She did not provide more details.

Infections on the rise

The vaccination push came as health officials warned that Covid infections are increasing in Cambridge after the Thanksgiving holiday, though chief public health officer Derrick Neal said that “it’s too soon to tell if we’re headed into a winter surge.” From Dec. 2 to Thursday there have been 140 new cases reported, almost certainly an undercount since it does not include results of home tests. Two more residents died of the virus, one in long-term care and one in the community, according to city data.

The latest vaccination figures, reported Wednesday, showed that 52 percent of residents have received one booster and 25 percent have had two. City health officials can’t determine whether either booster counted in the data is the bivalent vaccine approved this fall to protect against omicron variants as well as the original virus, because the state health department has not provided a breakdown.

Another respiratory virus, influenza, is at high levels across the state, and Neal, the city’s chief public health officer, said it has come earlier than usual this season. The city health department has offered flu vaccination along with Covid vaccine at 19 clinics this fall, including special programs at low-income senior housing developments and at homeless shelters.

Hospital beds are filled

More people chose a flu vaccine alone than received both shots or only a Covid bivalent vaccine, according to figures provided by Baxter. There were 2,025 flu vaccinations and 1,575 bivalent boosters administered at the clinics; in addition, nurses gave 48 vaccinations of the primary Covid series, the first two shots. In total, more than 2,400 people got 3,658 vaccine doses, Baxter said.

Besides the increase in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations rose in Middlesex County since Thanksgiving, Neal said. Hospital occupancy numbers reported to the federal government show that while there are few empty beds, most of the hospital beds are filled with patients who don’t have Covid.

The most recent figures for Cambridge, for the week ended Dec. 1, show that 203 beds were occupied of 237 at Cambridge Health Alliance, and all of the 14 intensive-care beds at CHA were filled. At Mount Auburn Hospital, 203 of 219 inpatient beds were filled, and 10 of 26 intensive-care beds. Only 2 percent of inpatient beds in the city, and 3 percent of intensive-care beds, were occupied by Covid patients.