The COVID vaccine in our community; resources for older adults

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is encouraging people to get the Coronavirus vaccine. We are also providing reliable information about the vaccine on the following topics:

  • Do I need a COVID booster shot?
  • Should I wear a mask if vaccinated?
  • What should I do if I test positive or was possibly exposed?
  • When can I get the vaccine?
  • Where can I get the vaccine?
  • What documentation will I need?
  • Transportation to Vaccine appointments
  • General Information about the vaccine
  • The Delta Variant of COVID
  • Mask Requirements in Massachusetts
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Resources in different languages about the vaccine.

 

Do I need a COVID booster shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised in late August that people receive a COVID vaccine booster shot eight months after their second dose. The booster shots are slated to begin in late September, pending an FDA evaluation on the proposal.

The recommendation came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in mid August that people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems receive an additional dose after an initial two-dose vaccine series.

“Emerging data suggest some people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems do not always build the same level of immunity compared to people who are not immunocompromised,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in the statement. “In addition, in small studies icon, fully vaccinated immunocompromised people have accounted for a large proportion of hospitalized breakthrough cases (40-44%). Immunocompromised people who are infected with SARS CoV-2 are also more likely to transmit the virus icon to household contacts.”

The CDC recommendation for a third dose of the vaccine includes people who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

The CDC recommends that people should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them.

 

Should I wear a mask if vaccinated?

The Somerville Board of Health approved an indoor mask mandate for all indoor public spaces on Aug. 19. The mandate applies to anyone two or older, and face coverings can be removed when people are actively eating or drinking. Click here to read the order.

The City of Cambridge issued an emergency order on Aug. 27 that requires masks or face coverings for all people over the age of two at public indoor spaces. The order takes effect on Friday, Sept. 3. Click here for more information.

Concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant of the Coronavirus prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend in late July that everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings in areas of substantial and high transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

That recommendation is based on recent data, which indicates that Delta infections resulted in similarly high viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus. 

“The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a July 30 statement.

What if I test positive or was exposed to COVID-19? 

If you test positive for Covid-19 or were in close contact with someone who has, the Cambridge Public Health Department has some important reminders for you:

If you test positive for COVID-19:

  • You need to stay at home and keep your distance from other people in your house. This is called isolation. You should only leave for urgent medical appointments.
  • You should notify anyone you might have exposed to the virus. These individuals are known as your close contacts. They are people you spent more than 15 minutes with indoors—whether you were wearing a mask or not—in the 2 days before you started to feel sick, up until you started self-isolating.  If you do not have symptoms, it would be 2 days prior to the date you took your Covid-19 test, up until you started self-isolating.
  • If you have symptoms, you should isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms started. For instance, if you started feeling tired and had a scratchy throat on Aug. 1, you would isolate yourself at home until Aug. 10, and then could return to regular activities on Aug. 11.
  • If you do not have symptoms, you should isolate for 10 days from the date of your positive Covid-19 test. For instance, if you took your Covid-19 test on Aug. 1, you would isolate yourself from others through Aug. 10, and return to regular activities on Aug. 11.

For more details, see the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Information and Guidance for Persons in Isolation.

If you are a contact of someone with Covid-19:

  • If you are not fully vaccinated, you should remain at home and keep your distance from other people in your house.  This is called quarantining. You should get tested 5 days after your exposure. If you remain symptom free and your test is negative, you can return to normal activities 8 days from the date of exposure. For instance, if you were exposed to an infected person on Aug. 1 and you tested negative on August 6, you would quarantine yourself through Aug. 8 and could return to regular activities on Aug. 9. If you do not get a COVID test during your quarantine, you should remain in quarantine for 10 days following exposure.
  • If you are fully vaccinated, and someone lets you know that you are a contact of someone with Covid-19, you do not need to quarantine. Instead, you should monitor yourself for symptoms, and wait to get tested until 3-7 days after you were exposed. If you start to feel sick, or test positive, you should isolate yourself from others.

These isolation and quarantine measures are essential for slowing the spread of the virus and are required under state law. Comprehensive guidance on how to isolate and quarantine is available on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website.

 

When can I get the vaccine?  

All Massachusetts residents age 16 and over are eligible for the vaccine.

How can I get a vaccine?

The Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Vaccine Finder has information about vaccine locations and availability statewide. Residents can also call 211 to access the Massachusetts Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line for help booking an appointment.

Homebound vaccinations

In-home vaccinations are available for homebound people who are not able to leave their home to get to a vaccination site. As of May 24, any individual who has trouble getting to a vaccine site is eligible for the homebound program.

Individuals can call (833) 983-0485 to register for an in-home vaccination. The registration phone line is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM and has representatives who speak English and Spanish, as well as translation services available in 100+ languages.

After registering, individuals will be called within five business days by the state’s Homebound Vaccine Provider, Commonwealth Care Alliance, to schedule an appointment. It may take some time to get an appointment, and the quickest way to get vaccinated remains to schedule an appointment at a vaccination site by visiting VaxFinder.mass.gov.

The Homebound Program is primarily using Johnson & Johnson vaccines, a safe and effective vaccine that only requires one visit to an individual’s home. For individuals 12-17 years old who are homebound and would need significant support to leave the home to get to a medical appointment, the Homebound Program is offering Pfizer vaccines.

More information on the Homebound Vaccination Program here.

 

The cites of Cambridge and Somerville are also providing regular updates on local vaccination information.

Cambridge Call 617-349-9789 to reach a voicemail line is managed by the Cambridge Council on Aging. Callers can request information about the vaccine and will receive a call back from COA staff.

Somerville has launched phone lines that residents can call to listen to recorded updates on COVID-19 vaccine information. Five lines, each with a different language, are available. Because vaccination information is changing rapidly, these lines will be updated frequently and will only provide the latest information. To sign up for phone/email/text alerts, visit their website or call 311.

Additional languages:
• Spanish Vaccine Info Line: 617-591-3252
• Portuguese Vaccine Info Line: 617-591-3253
• Haitian Creole Vaccine Info Line: 617-591-3254
• Nepali Vaccine Info Line: 617-591-3255

 

What documentation will I need?

At the time of scheduling and/or at your appointment you may be asked for the following information:

▪ Insurance card. Vaccination is free whether you have insurance or not. If you have insurance, please bring that information with you to the appointment.
▪ Government-issued identification or license.

You may get a vaccine even if you do not have a driver’s license or a Social Security number.

You will never be asked for a credit card number to make an appointment.

 

Transportation to Appointments 

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services is offering free transportation, via one of SCES’ transportation providers, for local older adults to COVID-19 vaccination sites in Cambridge, Somerville and adjacent communities. Click here for more details.

General Information About the Vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a COVID-19 vaccine page, which includes a variety of resources about the vaccine and getting vaccinated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration COVID-19 vaccine page includes news updates and fact sheets about the vaccines that have been approved for emergency use.

Mask Requirements in Massachusetts 

The Department of Public Health issued a public health advisory effective May 29 that advises all unvaccinated residents to continue to wear masks in indoor settings and when they can’t socially distance.

Masks continue to be required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals at all times in the following locations, subject to the exemptions listed below:

  1. On Public and Private Transportation, including on the MBTA, commuter rail, buses, ferries, and airplanes, and while in rideshares (Uber and Lyft), taxis, and livery vehicles, as required by the Centers for Disease Control January 29, 2021 Order.   Face coverings are also required at all times in transportation hubs, including train stations, bus stops, and airports.  The requirement applies to riders and workers.
  2. Inside K-12 public schools, collaboratives, approved special education schools and as otherwise required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  The requirement applies to students, teachers, and staff
  3. Healthcare facilities licensed or operated by the Commonwealth and healthcare practice locations of any provider licensed by a professional board which sits within the Department of Public Health or the Division of Professional Licensure. These settings include nursing homes, rest homes, emergency medical services, hospitals, physician  and other medical and dental offices, urgent care settings, community health centers, vaccination sites, behavioral health clinics, and Bureau of Substance and Addiction Services (BSAS) facilities. This requirement applies to patients, residents, staff, vendors and visitors.
  4. Congregate care facilities or programs operated, licensed, certified, regulated, authorized, or funded by the Commonwealth.  These settings include the common areas of assisted living residences, group homes, residential treatment programs, and facilities operated, licensed, certified, regulated, authorized, or funded by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Youth Services (DYS), the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS), the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC).  This requirement applies to clients, residents, staff, vendors and visitors.
  5. Emergency shelter programs, including individual and family homeless shelters, domestic violence and sexual assault shelters, veterans’ shelters, and shelters funded by the Department of Housing and Community Development. This requirement applies to guests, staff, vendors and visitors.
  6. Houses of Correction, Department of Correction prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities.  This requirement applies to people who are detained or incarcerated, staff, vendors and visitors.
  7. Health Care and Day Services and Programs operated, licensed, certified, regulated, or funded by the Commonwealth including the Executive Office of Health and Human Services or one of its agencies.  These settings include adult day health, day habilitation, Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), psychosocial rehabilitation club houses, brain injury centers and clubhouses, day treatment, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, recovery support centers and center-based day support programs.  This requirement applies to staff, visitors, vendors and consumers.
  8. Home health care workers, including Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) and Home Health Aides in community and home-based settings where they are providing patient-facing care; provided, however, the requirement shall only apply to the worker providing care

The following persons are exempt from the face coverings requirement:

  • Children under 5 years old.
  • Persons for whom a face mask or covering creates a health risk or is not safe because of any of the following conditions or circumstances:
    • the face mask or covering affects the person’s ability to breathe safely;
    • the person has a mental health or other medical diagnosis that advises against wearing a face mask or covering;
    • the person has a disability that prevents them from wearing a face mask or covering; or
    • the person depends on supplemental oxygen to breathe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have the vaccines been approved by the FDA?  The FDA announced full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), on Aug. 23.

The full approval covers usage of the vaccine for people age 16 and over.  The vaccine is also available under emergency use for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and as a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

The Pfizer vaccine is the first COVID vaccine to receive full approval from the PDA.

How do we know the vaccine is safe? Vaccines are the most-tested pharmaceuticals, and the result of a rigorous development process and clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people. In approving the vaccines for emergency use, the Food and Drug Administration determined that the known and potential benefits of these vaccines outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with COVID-19.

Are there side effects? Yes. Some people who get the vaccine reported side effects, usually mild and more common after the second dose. These side effects are the result of your body creating an immune response. Side effects may start 1-2 days after the vaccine and last on average 2-3 days. It is important to note in the clinical trials that fewer older people reported side effects.

The most common were pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, muscle or joint pain, and chills or fever. If you have concerns, we encourage you to contact your Primary Care Doctor with specific questions about the vaccine and your unique medical history.

What should people do if they have asthma, allergies or other lung problems? According to the doctors at Cambridge Health Alliance, people who have these medical issues should absolutely get the vaccine. People with asthma, allergies or other lung conditions could get very sick or die from COVID-19. The only people who should not get a vaccine are people who have severe allergic reactions to a component of the vaccine. Other than the active mRNA ingredient, the vaccines are simply made of fats, salts, sugar, vinegar and certain glycerols.

I have other questions…  SCES is happy to connect you with reliable information, vaccine rollout updates and assistance. We will update this page as new information becomes available. As we learn more, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services may be able to help with scheduling and transportation for vaccination appointments.

 

Helpful Links

Questions about Getting the COVID Vaccine? — The Boston Globe 

Have doubts about getting the COVID-19 vaccine? Here are some FAQsPBS affiliate WHYY

What to expect at your vaccination appointmentCenters for Disease Control and Prevention

VIDEO: How do the COVID vaccines work? – Boston Medical Center CNO Nancy Gaden

FAQ from Tufts Medical Center which is also available in Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.