Massachusetts coronavirus vaccine rollout: Veterinarians, domestic workers lobby Baker administration for prioritization

Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman currently qualifies for a coronavirus vaccine in California or Maryland. But in Massachusetts, the critical-care veterinarian will have to wait until eligibility opens up to the general public.

“It’s definitely discouraging,” Sinnott-Stutzman said. “Veterinarians have been working through the whole pandemic.”

Veterinarians, considered essential when the state shut down last spring, are now among myriad groups, including domestic workers, which are lobbying the Baker administration to be moved up in the vaccine priority list.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices considers veterinary workers essential. But veterinarians were split off from the Phase 2 essential worker group in Massachusetts and placed in with the general public in Phase 3, which is currently slated to begin sometime in April.

“That’s a misstep I think should be corrected,” said Sinnott-Stutzman, an emergency vet for MSPCA-Angell. “Massachusetts is pretty far outside the bell curve here.”

While the MSPCA and other veterinary centers are relying on curbside drop-offs of pets to minimize potential exposure to their humans, “what they don’t see behind closed doors is we can’t social distance from one another,” Sinnott-Stutzman said. “You can’t give a vaccine to a dog without one person holding the dog and another person giving the vaccine.”

The pandemic’s prolonged home-isolation has led to a surge in pet ownership. And that’s created an “unprecedented caseload” for veterinary centers facing staffing shortages as workers get sick — either with COVID-19 or routine illnesses — or face potential exposures and have to quarantine.

The Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association sent a letter to the Baker administration urging officials to reconsider and add veterinarians to Phase 2. A change.org petition pushing for the same has over 8,000 signatures. But Sinnott-Stutzman said they’ve yet to hear from the governor. The governor’s office and COVID-19 Command Center on Saturday did not answer a Herald reporter’s question about any potential changes to the list.

“We’re doing the best we can to respectfully lobby the administration to make a change. They’ve been willing to do that for other areas, so we’re hopeful that change will come for us,” Sinnott-Stutzman said.

Domestic workers, a group that includes nannies, au pairs and house cleaners, are also lobbying the state for inclusion in Phase 2.

Home-based health care workers were “justly” prioritized in Phase 1, the Matahari Women Workers’ Center wrote in an open letter to Gov. Charlie Baker. But now they’re imploring the state to prioritize other domestic workers, the majority of whom are women of color.

Angella Foster, a Matahari organizer who’s worked as a nanny for 21 years, said, “Nannies must be included because I think we are the most essential of workers because we make all the other jobs possible. We make it so the doctors and nurses can go out to work.”

Foster said she faces exposure “from the moment I leave my house,” to the playground, to the apartment complex she works in. Families don’t always wear masks around their homes, and nannies don’t know who else they might be in contact with to monitor potential exposures.

If Foster was able to get a vaccine, “at least I can protect my family, who has underlying issues” as well as those she cares for in other homes.

“We need the vaccine,” Foster said, adding that prioritizing domestic workers would be a prime way for Baker to “showcase what is an equitable approach for him.”

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