A new swath of Island residents — including people aged 60 and older, grocery store and restaurant staff, and transportation workers — have become eligible to sign up for the vaccine starting Monday.

According to information posted on the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital website, vaccine registration began online at mvhospital.org at 5 p.m. Monday for appointments on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week. The hospital will be hosting a second registration on Saturday, March 27, for appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Along with grocery store and restaurant workers, newly eligible essential workers include those in the food and meatpacking industry, transit and transportation workers, public health officials, sanitation workers, court system employees and funeral directors and funeral home employees.

But appointments have been scarce.

In an email to the Gazette Monday evening, hospital spokesman Marissa Lefebvre said that 100 available appointments were filled in approximately 10 minutes during the 5 p.m. signup. Ms. Lefebvre did not immediately respond to a follow-up request asking how many appointments were booked on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. An update on the hospital's website late Monday said that it had completed 41 first-dose vaccinations during the day.

According to the state Department of Public Health, there are an estimated 1,355 year-round residents in Dukes County between the ages of 60 and 64 that are newly eligible, along with hundreds more workers in the food services and transportation industries. The hospital did not publicly disclose the number of available appointments prior to signups opening on Monday.

To sign up for a vaccine, go to the hospital website (mvhospital.org) and click on the yellow-highlighted “schedule your Covid-19 vaccine appointment” bar at the top of the page. Scroll down to a box that says “schedule my appointment.” The box will redirect users to the hospital’s online registration tool.

Steamship Authority employees are included in the new round of vaccine eligibility. In an email statement to the Gazette, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said the ferry service was encouraging its approximately 500 employees to get vaccinated.

"We are working with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment about arranging clinics for our personnel in both Falmouth and Hyannis, which we hope to open up to regional transit providers as well; we are also working to arrange similar efforts for our island-based employees," Mr. Driscoll said. 

The hospital has completed 6,509 first-dose vaccinations since December, as well as 2,887 second-dose shots. According to state data, Dukes County has the highest first-dose vaccination rate relative to population in the commonwealth, at 36 per cent. Approximately 79 per cent of residents between 65 and 69 have been vaccinated to date, 87 per cent between 70 and 74, and more than 95 per cent of residents 75 or older. The state estimates that there are about 4,000 Islanders older than 65, with the total Island population around 17,400.

The eligibility expansion comes after an open-ended announcement by Gov. Charlie Baker last Wednesday that all state residents would be eligible to sign up for the vaccine starting April 19. Up until Monday, March 22, the state had only opened phase two vaccine eligibility to residents 65 and older, those with two or more pre-existing medical conditions, educators and low income and senior living facilities.

Phase one vaccines covered Island front lines health care workers and first responders, among other priority populations.

At the time of the announcement, it was not immediately clear how the state would transition from the early stages of the phase two vaccine rollout to allowing full eligibility by late April. But since last week’s announcement, the hospital has laid out a timeline for expanded eligibility signups.

On Saturday, April 3 at 8 a.m., Islanders 55 and older, as well as those with one pre-existing medical condition, will be eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment starting April 5. Eligible medical conditions include asthma, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, obesity, smoking, pregnancy, down syndrome and more.

Signups for phase three of the vaccine rollout, which allows all state residents to receive the vaccine starting April 19, will begin on Saturday, April 17 at 8 a.m.

The expansion of vaccine eligibility coincides with the state’s transition into phase four of its reopening plan, which began last summer but was delayed as cases surged in the late fall and winter. Phase four will allow increased capacity at gyms, museums, libraries and other public gathering spaces (from 40 to 50 per cent), eliminate capacity restrictions at restaurants (although tables are required to remain six feet apart), and allow 12 per cent capacity at sports stadiums.

Restaurants will also be allowed to host indoor live music, which has been on pause since the pandemic began.

Updated to include information from the hospital and Steamship Authority.