Analysis: Canning Deference, Legislators Increasingly Critique Baker on Vaccination…
by Adam Bass
State Representatives and Senators have expressed growing frustration and concern over the rollout of the vaccination program that Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has undertaken. When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received approval, Baker said the state could distribute these shots in a three phase program. Yet, he warned the vaccination program would be “bumpy.”
Still, he expressed confidence that the state would quickly vaccinate those most in need of the life-protecting shots first.
Simply put, that did not happen.
As of Monday, Massachusetts currently ranks 41st in terms of states who have been vaccinating their citizens per the New York Time’s Vaccine Tracker. Several areas of the commonwealth, including New Bedford, Winthrop, and Springfield have been “vaccination deserts” at some point. Communities of color, such as Chelsea and Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood have been also suffering from a lack of information about the vaccination process.
On January 25th, Mass League of Community Health Centers and President and CEO Michael Curry urged those in Roxbury to “trust the science” and “get the facts.” But how can people get the facts when the facts seem unavailable?
The Baker administration did not immediately respond to inquiries from WMP&I about its vaccination efforts.
On the local level, Boston City Councilor and Mayoral Candidates Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu criticized Governor Baker’s lack of attention to these communities of color. Campbell called it not only a health crisis, but a racial crisis. In an interview with Boston Public Radio, Campbell noted that these communities have never made it out of the “red zone” and that leadership must listen to their needs.
Things could be changing, however. Starting this month, a mass vaccination center at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury will open, along with six other sites including one in Fenway Park and one in Springfield at the Eastfield Mall.
Still, other issues that plague the rollout, most prominently on the State’s appointment website. Lawmakers on Beacon Hill have noticed.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka announced three new joint committees. The committees will focus on preparedness and management of the coronavirus, racial inequity, and cybersecurity. The coronavirus committee has the authority to hold oversight meetings, which have come up amid the more flailing moments of the state’s response.
Legislative leaders did not draw a direct line to the announcement of these committees. Still, the timing was conspicuous.
The website, through which residents can set up appointments for vaccinations, has sustained criticism as a complicated mess that lacks a central system to easily find a vaccination site.
Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow,, along with other lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Baker last week critiquing the lack of a call center for those who have trouble with the website, as well as introducing legislation to implement a call center.
One call center will open this month with a callback system in place. Lesser is pleased with the update. Yet, he is watching the progress on this system, particularly its accessibility, clarity and availability in multiple languages. “Grateful this is moving forward, but we do have some questions regarding multiple languages and the ability to schedule your appointment via one call.” Lesser released in a statement on Twitter.
Lesser was not the only lawmaker to reach out to the Governor’s office for more answers. Representative Tami Gouveia, a medical doctor and Chelmsford Democrat, wrote a letter to Baker on January 27th along with other house colleagues pointing out insufficient resources local communities have for vaccine distribution.
Gouveia spoke to WMP&I about her community’s experience. “We have those in police, fire, and student EMTs who are ready to go and administer the vaccine, but because under the Administration’s rules, they need to belong to an ambulance company in order to be ready to go.”
Gouveia has asked if these barriers could be removed in order to speed up the process. When asked whether oversight hearings on the rollout are warranted, Gouveia suggested that would be challenging. “I know several of my fellow colleagues would love to introduce legislation or plans in the state house to look into this, but we need to work with the Governor right now, as we can only do so much.”
Representative Mike Connolly, one of the leading progressive voices of the legislature, said that. he does support a potential oversight hearing. However, it would be a heavy weight for the House and Senate to carry alone. “This is an ongoing emergency situation. It’s the Job of the executive and the administration, to make the plan and execute it in the face of this emergency.”
The announcement from Mariano and Spilka speaks to the coronavirus broadly. It could be weeks before any hearings occur. Yet, the fact they are even on the table now suggests the legislature is preparing to lend its voice to the growing frustration of recent weeks.
Public health data in Massachusetts is heading in the right direction in terms of cases and positivity rate. Case numbers have been decreasing since the beginning of January.
During the second phase of vaccinations, those who are 65+ will become eligible for vaccination, along with transit workers, meat packers, and those who work in early education.
In addition, starting February 1st, some vaccine outlets in Western Mass received up to 3,000 additional weekly doses. That is on top of the doses that they have received. Rep Mindy Domb of Hampshire County and Senator Jo Comerford of Franklin County released a statement stating that they expressed gratitude for those in local health who have heard their needs for more vaccines.
Though as many have said, there is still a great deal of work to be done.