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I-Team: Are Mass Vaccination Sites Worth The Cost?

BOSTON (CBS) - Easy and convenient. That's what people said about getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy or medical facility. People told the I-Team it was good to have it done locally and with their doctor.

Early on, that was not the case for folks trying to get the shot at one of the state's mass vaccination sites. Problems scheduling an appointment on the website and long lines in the cold at big sporting venues kept a lot of people away.

The I-Team found out of the approximately six million vaccine doses administered, weekly data shows only about 20% got the shot at one of the mass vaccination sites. Eighty percent preferred to get the vaccine at hospitals, clinics, health departments and pharmacies.

Greg Sullivan, the former state inspector general and researcher with the watchdog group the Pioneer Institute says it's kind of shocking. "It's kind of shocking," Sullivan said. "The numbers you dug up are showing that people want to go to their local pharmacy or to a hospital or medial office. That is the most effective and preferred way, it's also less expensive for taxpayers ultimately paying for this."

The cost of mass vaccination sites is a concern of the legislative COVID-19 oversight committee.

The Baker administration gave no bid contracts to three private companies to run the sites. The I-Team reviewed the contracts with CIC Health, Curative and Labcorp and estimated they have billed the state at least $24 million. But that number could be much higher with additional costs. The state refused to tell us how much money it has paid.

Massachusetts State Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) sits on the COVID-19 oversight committee. "The state has not been completely transparent," Decker said. "There is a limited role for a mass vaccination site. Every dollar matters right now, because the cost of this pandemic is going to be experienced by all of us for years."

With data showing the sites not getting the volume, Greg Sullivan with the says it's time for the state to pivot. "State officials have to really weigh, when they see this report, to look at the numbers you brought out," Sullivan said. "It might be the time to deemphasize those mass vax sites and take some of those vaccines and give them to the pharmacies and to the medical offices that's the bottom line."

The Department of Public Health did not respond to our numerous requests for information or comment. WBZ also contacted the three companies running the mass vaccinations sites. None of them would say how much money the state has paid them.

Labcorp released the following statement:

"Labcorp is proud to support the vaccination efforts in Massachusetts. To date, we have administered over 78,700 doses of a vaccine. All vendors, including Labcorp, are paid the same insurance reimbursement rate of $35 per shot for patients who have insurance. If a patient is uninsured, the Commonwealth covers the associated costs through a fund reserved for vaccinations. The state also covers pass through costs associated with the site, including electricity and wifi. Labcorp will continue to support vaccination efforts in Massachusetts and across the country to help return people to work and everyday life."

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