This week, Massachusetts launched a first-in-the-nation experiment, offering vaccinations to younger people who accompany people who are 75 and older to mass vaccination sites.
The plan was intended to ease access problems for older people, who have struggled to book online appointments and travel to sports stadiums. Right away, it met with criticism from state legislators and some public health experts, who said it could result in scarce doses going to young, healthy people.
It also gave rise to an unusual online market, as entrepreneurial Massachusetts residents sought to forge caregiving relationships at top speed.
“I have a great driving record and a very clean Toyota Camry,” said one person in an advertisement on Craigslist. “I can pay $100 cash as well. I am a friendly conversationalist and will allow you to choose the music and show me all the pictures of your grandkids!”
Other inquiries were made more delicately.
At a Thursday news conference, Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged that some were approaching the program opportunistically, and warned seniors to be cautious about offers of help from strangers.
“You should only reach out to somebody that you know or trust to bring you as your companion, whether that’s a child, a companion, a spouse, a neighbor or a caregiver,” he said. “Don’t take calls or offers from people you don’t know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone.”
Public health experts offered divergent opinions on the companion program, a concept that was not widely discussed before it was rolled out.
Andrew Lover, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the plan would accelerate vaccinations by providing an “extra push” for older people who live alone.
“There’s definitely potential for people to game the system, but my assumption is it’s a reasonably small number,” he said. “The more people we can get vaccinated the better, in the grand scheme of public health, and we are more than happy to accept that small problematic fraction.”
Others worried that the policy allows young, healthy people doses that are in short supply.