BOSTON (AP) — The distribution of the first round of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Massachusetts is set to begin as early as next week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday.

The state’s first shipment of nearly 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was ordered from the federal government Friday and will be delivered directly to 21 hospitals, as well as to the Department of Public Health Immunization lab, beginning around Dec. 15.

Doses will then be redistributed for access to 74 hospitals across all 14 counties for front-line medical workers.

The next 40,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will be allocated to the Federal Pharmacy Program to begin vaccinating staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, rest homes and assisted living residences, according to Baker.

The vaccine is being prioritized for these groups to maximize the preservation of life and to support the health care system, Baker said.

Massachusetts is expecting 300,000 first doses of the vaccine to be delivered by the end of December. The first vaccines, manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, will require two doses administered three to four weeks apart.

If all goes as planned, the administration hopes to receive and distribute over 2 million doses to priority population groups in Massachusetts by the end of March.

Among those targeted during the first vaccine phase through February include: clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing COVID care; those at long-term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities; police, fire and emergency medical services; those in congregate care settings including shelters and prisons; home-based health care workers; and health care workers doing non-COVID care.

The second phase, which will run from February through April, will prioritize individuals at high risk for COVID-19 complications; adults over 65; and workers in early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works and public health.

The vaccine should be available to the general public sometime in the spring.

Baker said despite the promising news, people can't let up on precautions needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We are certainly not out of the woods yet,” Baker said at a press conference Wednesday. “It’s really important to wear face coverings at all times in public.”

___

VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths jumped by 89 on Wednesday while the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose by more than 5,670.

The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 10,922 and its confirmed caseload since the start of the pandemic to more than 259,300.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were more than 1,570 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 310 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 69.

The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 6,946.

___

VETERANS HOMES BILL

Two Massachusetts congressmen are proposing an overhaul of federal safety standards at homes for veterans across the nation in response to the deaths of 76 veterans who contracted the coronavirus at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

The Holyoke Veteran’s Act introduced Tuesday by U.S. Reps. Richard Neal and Joseph Kennedy III would require improved qualifications among administrative leaders and broader oversight of veterans' care facilities. It would also require administrators or deputy superintendents to maintain a medical license similar to those held by skilled nursing facility administrators.

Neal told Masslive.com that what happened in Holyoke is personal — his uncle is a resident of the home who survived after being diagnosed with the virus.

“There must be accountability for what happened at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and other facilities across the country where our heroes live, and this legislation is a very important step to achieve that,” Neal said in a statement. “We made a promise to care for our veterans after they fought for us. And that cannot ever be forgotten.”

Two former top administrators at the state-run Holyoke facility have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence charges, and the state has promised renovations and safety improvements.