Baker takes heat on vaccine rollout

Governor bats away comparisons to other states

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER gave an impassioned response on Wednesday to reporters’ questions about who should be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

With the vaccine rollout moving ahead slowly and many in the general population eager for their chance to get the shots, Baker stressed the need to give inoculations to those who need them the most, including those inside prisons convicted of crimes and pretrial detainees. He also announced that residents of group homes and homeless shelters will receive the vaccine beginning Sunday. 

“I really hope that early on we are able, with the vaccine that’s available, to hit the populations for whom life is most at risk and for whom the health care system relies on and depends on to provide care,” Baker said. 

One of the more contentious questions was why the state isn’t changing its COVID vaccine timetable to vaccinate anyone over 65, as some in Washington are recommending.  Baker said he would run that recommendation by his local experts once he receives formal guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline. Under current rules, people 75-plus will be targeted at the start of Phase 2 and those 65-plus toward the end of Phase 2.  

Baker has focused on inoculating specific populations considered to be high risk, starting with health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders, and so forth. He said some other states are taking a different approach, targeting high-risk groups but also handing out vaccines to others.

“People who are the same age as my kids have got vaccinated [in other states] before people who are home health workers or health care workers or long-term-care workers or long-term-care residents or people who have multiple co-morbidities and are over the age of 70. Honestly, I just don’t think that’s the way we should do this,” he said.

Comparisons to how other states are distributing vaccines outside of Massachusetts seem valid to members of the public. In Ludlow, a couple has spent months trying to figure out how to get a vaccine for their 97-year-old father and neighbor, Donald Scott, a World War II veteran. In a letter to the Springfield Republican, the couple said New York resident Martha Stewart “got her vaccination yesterday, as have many other people in other parts of the country.”

Despite his age, Scott wasn’t considered a priority because he isn’t living in a long-term care facility.

After the publication began reporting on the situation, the couple heard from the Springfield veterans administration’s office, which said older veterans will be scheduled to get vaccinations soon. On the other side of the state, a 97-year-old combat veteran was vaccinated Wednesday in Hyannis.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Meanwhile, complaints about the vaccine rollout and suggestions for how to improve it seem to be pouring in. Local health directors are blaming the state for lax communication in a last minute push to roll out the vaccine to first responders, while Delta Dental suggested dentist offices could be tapped as vaccination sites and Secretary of State Bill Galvin said it might make sense to dispense shots at polling locations.

Federal data indicate Massachusetts ranked 25th nationwide in vaccine distribution, with 3,155 doses given per 100,000 people.