Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced an expansion of the state’s vaccination program at his February 17 press briefing. As of February 18, people who are 65 and older, and those who have multiple comorbidities that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, though restaurant workers were yet again not included in the updated plans.
By Baker’s own admission, it’s unclear exactly when restaurant workers (and other food service workers) will become eligible to receive the vaccine. And yet the state continues to loosen restrictions on restaurants, especially with regard to capacity caps on indoor dining: Restaurants in Massachusetts can currently open dining rooms at 40 percent capacity, despite the fact that restaurant workers remain ineligible for the vaccine. With that said, it’s crucial to note that there are still very real risks associated with dining out, and restaurant workers shoulder the heaviest burden.
Restaurant workers are currently grouped with a cohort of “other workers” under the state’s plan, and are set to become eligible for vaccination in the third part of Phase 2. Phase 1 began in December 2020, and included first responders, residents and employees of long term care facilities, health care workers, and other front line workers; the first part of Phase 2 began in February, and included people who are 75 and older. It’s unclear at the moment when the third part of Phase 2 will begin. A representative with Baker’s office told Eater on February 1 that “we’ve said that Phase 2 will run from February - April, [and] we’ll provide more updates as they become available.”
In his press briefing, Baker said that the federal government only ships 110,000 doses of the vaccine to Massachusetts each week, and that demand is currently outstripping supply.
“Unless we see a massive increase in shipments from the feds, it will take us at least a month for people in these new [priority] groups to book their first vaccination appointments,” Baker said.
Baker also said that the state’s first priority was to immunize “people who’ve been working on the front line of this virus for the better part of the past year.” In saying as much, the Governor is ignoring a large section of the state’s workforce — including grocery store workers, delivery drivers, meatpackers, agricultural workers, and restaurant workers, among so many others — who have been working on the front line since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure the rest of the state could continue eat. These are the same workers that the Baker administration continues to overlook and de-prioritize under the state’s vaccination plan.