Baker touts Mass. vaccine record in meeting with Biden
President praises bipartisan cooperation at the state level
AGAINST THE BACKDROP of partisan warfare in Washington on everything from masks to infrastructure spending, President Biden met on Tuesday with a bipartisan group of six governors, including Charlie Baker, and lauded them for putting politics aside and “meeting the moment” when it comes to getting residents vaccinated to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baker described the Massachusetts approach as a “mixed model” that employed everything from mass vaccination sites to pop-up clinics. He boasted that the state was now No. 2 in the country, with about 74 percent of the adult population having received at least one vaccine dose.
Baker addressed the state’s efforts to ensure equity in vaccine delivery, which was one focus of the virtual White House session. He said vaccination rates among Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents in the state are “right up there” with those of white residents.
He also pointed to the early state vaccination effort in various residential facilities. “One of the places we started straight out of the gate was a big, aggressive program to do outreach to congregate care,” said Baker. He mentioned group homes for those with developmental disabilities and homeless shelters as targets of that effort, but did not mention prisons, which were also included in that early priority group.
As part of the White House effort, Biden announced that from May 24 to July 4, Uber and Lyft will offer free rides to and from vaccination sites.
Biden also pointed to this week’s FDA approval of emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds as another step toward greater vaccination coverage of the population.
Joining Baker in the conversation with Biden were fellow Republican governors Mike DeWine of Ohio and Spencer Cox of Utah, along with Democratic governors Janet Mills of Maine, Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico.
Mills said Maine is “closing in” on 70 percent of its adult population with at least one shot. Mills joked that when asked to stay at least 6 feet apart, some residents of what she described as the state with the “most dispersed population” among the lower 48 states asked, “why so close?”
Mills described all the challenges of reaching Maine’s rural population. She also announced a new effort to boost vaccination rates by offering any Mainer receiving a first vaccine between today and Memorial Day a voucher that can be redeemed for a state fishing or hunting license, a purchase at LL Bean, or tickets to a Portland Sea Dogs minor league baseball game or the Oxford Plains Speedway car race track. “We’re calling this ‘your shot to get outdoors,’” Mills said.
Biden went out of his way to play down partisan divisions that emerged in vaccination rates and hesitancy or opposition to being inoculated. “Whether it’s a red state or a blue state, black, white, Latino, AAPI, Americans from every walk of life are getting their vaccines,” he said.
Baker emphasized the need to be adaptable in order to reach the most people. “I think in many ways the biggest things we, as governors, have tried to do is pursue a variety of data-driven approaches, based on what we’re hearing from people on the ground and recognizing and understanding the same approach isn’t going to work in every place,” he said.
Baker said the combined vaccine efforts in Massachusetts of big hospitals, community health centers, and sites like churches and community centers means “you’ve basically got all the trusted voices in that particular neighborhood working together, delivering the same message, which is that this is a good idea and this is something you should be willing to do.”
“We have six of the best governors who have worked on this with me today,” Biden said at the start of the session.
The virtual gathering put a national stamp of approval — from a Democratic president — on Baker’s vaccination record. It marked quite the turnaround from the early days of the vaccine rollout, when Baker was pilloried for problems with the state sign-up website and over charges that there was not equitable access to vaccines in many of the state’s hardest hit communities.
There has long been less partisan division among governors than among those in Washington, with state leaders more focused on the hands-on challenges of managing and addressing problems. Biden acknowledged that as he wrapped up the meeting.
“I think you’ve done incredible work,” he said to the governors. “I think we get a lot more done at the state level in terms of cooperation among Democrats and Republicans than than we do federally.” He said the governors’ efforts are “responsible for saving thousands of lives.”
Before the event began, Biden exchanged some baseball banter with Baker, who appeared in the virtual meeting from a spot overlooking Polar Park in Worcester, where the Red Sox top minor league team was preparing for its first game in the new stadium.
“Charlie, you’re getting ready to play?” Biden asked him.
“I’m just getting ready to watch and to celebrate,” Baker said.
Biden said the head of his Secret Service detail when he served as vice president was a big Red Sox fan. “Every time we went by the Green Wall, we had to bless ourselves and be silent,” he said, not quite coming up with the nickname for Fenway Park’s famed left field wall.Biden also recalled a trip as vice president to a Yankees spring training game, where the same agent pulled up his pant cuffs to reveal socks with the Red Sox insignia.
“When A-Rod gave me a bat, he said he’s not going to let me put it in the car,” Biden said.