HAVERHILL — The city has created a phone hotline to help residents who are having trouble making appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations.
According to a schedule set up by the state, people ages 75 and older are the latest group eligible to receive the vaccine. Elders across the region have been complaining about experiencing confusion and frustration as they try to use state websites to make vaccination appointments.
Haverhill joins other area communities — including Lawrence, Methuen, Andover and North Andover — in creating hotlines to help residents find places where they can receive the vaccine.
Haverhill launched its hotline this week, Mayor James Fiorentini said. The public can call 978-374-2390 (then press 0) weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to reach a call center at the Citizens Center staffed by the city’s Human Services Department. Representatives who speak Spanish are available.
The hotline can help elderly residents, people with language barriers, those with no internet access or people having other problems trying to make appointments.
"We have been flooded with calls from anxious residents struggling to find appointments and navigate difficult websites," Fiorentini said, "and residents without access to a computer feel shut out of the process."
If call center representatives cannot find an appointment, they put callers on a waiting list and get back to them as soon as an appointment slot opens up, the mayor said.
Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette, who is supervising the call center, said the city is developing a list of local doctors and other health care providers who administer the vaccine, as well as vaccine clinic sites in and around Haverhill.
"Everyone who wants the vaccine will get it," Ouellette said. "It just might take a little time to find a location."
Before residents 75 and older began receiving the vaccine, the first people eligible to be vaccinated were health care providers, public safety workers and first responders.
The next groups to qualify are people ages 65 to 75 and people with two underlying illnesses. The state has not yet announced a timeline for those groups.
People in the first phase who have not yet received the vaccine remain eligible for it.
Other Merrimack Valley communities have hotlines or are creating them to help residents schedule vaccinations.
Lawrence opened a bilingual call center last week for appointment registrations for Lawrence residents 75 and older. Those eligible can arrange an appointment by calling 978-620-3330. Questions can be addressed to 978-620-3557.
Andover officials have said they plan to release details about a COVID-19 call center soon. They also said they expect the first local clinic for residents 75 and older to be held Feb. 17. A very limited number of vaccines will available, officials said, and the town expects to hold weekly clinics with no more than 100 doses available each session.
Methuen has created a vaccination hotline at 978-983-8915. That city planned to schedule 100 appointments for this week. People on a waiting list were to be called back by mid-week to make appointments for future clinics.
North Andover's hotline is 978-208-6070. That town's website says North Andover will receive only 100 vaccines each week, and the state is asking the town to send residents to the large Danvers clinic at the DoubleTree hotel, which can vaccinate thousands of people each day. North Andover officials said their town will begin targeting its doses toward residents who are 75 and older and unable to drive to the Danvers clinic.
Residents 75 and older may also make a phone call to the state at 211 for help registering for any state-run clinic. If no appointments are available when residents call, they will be placed on a call-back list and contacted when appointments are available.
The latest information on who is eligible to receive the vaccine is available at www.mass.gov/info-details/when-can-i-get-the-covid-19-vaccine.
A list of all places in Massachusetts providing the vaccine is available at www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccination-locations. The state website www.maimmunizations.org/clinic/search is updated as communities receive their allotments of the vaccine.