Baker touts low rates of vaccine hesitancy in Massachusetts
Says J&J will remain small part of vaccine campaign
AS SOME STATES are beginning to hit a “vaccine wall,” where everyone who wants a COVID-19 shot has gotten one and those left unvaccinated are uninterested, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that vaccine hesitancy is less of a problem in Massachusetts than elsewhere.
“We don’t have a lot of hesitancy with respect to Massachusetts,” Baker said, speaking at a State House press conference.
A recent poll by Morning Consult found that just 11 percent of Massachusetts residents would refuse to get the vaccine, tied with Hawaii for the lowest number in the country.
The polling also suggests that political leaning is tied to vaccine hesitancy. Republicans are generally less inclined to get the shot than Democrats, and the states with the lowest interest in the vaccine (such as Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Oklahoma) are Republican-dominated.
“I’m not exactly sure what’s driving some of the behavior that’s going on in other parts of the country,” Baker said. “We got hit very hard here early.”
Baker said the fact that the virus was prevalent in the Northeast early on, before people knew much about its transmission and before people had enough personal protective equipment, led to the region being incredibly hard hit. “I think for a lot of folks in the Northeast, that’s stayed with us throughout the course of the pandemic, and it has a lot to do with why people have been so enthusiastic around the Northeast about getting vaccinated,” Baker said.
The New York Times reported this weekend that around 5 million people, or 8 percent of those who got a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, have not returned for a second dose. The Times reported that some people were skipping the recommended second dose because they feared the side effects or felt they were already adequately protected, while others ran into logistical challenges getting a second appointment scheduled.
Baker said in Massachusetts, 99 percent of those who got a first dose of Pfizer or Moderna have returned for their second shot. Baker suggested that part of the reason is state officials have encouraged providers to have people book their second shot during the 15-minute observation period after their first shot.
Now that the federal government has authorized the continued use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was paused temporarily out of a concern about rare blood clots, Baker said the state will continue using that vaccine primarily to reach populations where having a single dose that is easy for providers to use and transport will make a difference. This will include mobile vaccination clinics and efforts to vaccinate homebound seniors. It will also be offered in some physicians’ offices, which do not have capacity to deep freeze the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Baker said he thinks the federal government took a “cautious approach” in pausing then resuming use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said he did not anticipate that the pause will have a major impact on attitudes in Massachusetts. “I’ve said many times that I think if you have an opportunity to get vaccinated by one of these three vaccines you should take it,” Baker said.
He added that Johnson & Johnson continues to be a very small part of the state’s vaccination campaign. So far, of 5.68 million vaccine doses administered in Massachusetts, only 204,000 have been Johnson & Johnson. The state has about 6,000 doses left over from when use of the shot was paused, and it expects to get 4,000 more doses this week.
Baker noted that the virus variants have been “much tougher on younger people” than the initial COVID strain, and as the elderly are getting vaccinated, more younger people – those ages 20 to 50 – are landing in the hospital with COVID-19. “One of the things I don’t want younger people to do is walk away believing that this isn’t about them, this isn’t going to affect them,” Baker said.While Baker has been reluctant to talk about Massachusetts-specific vaccine passes, he did note that several countries are already requiring people to be fully vaccinated before traveling there. “I would expect to see more of that,” he said.