Oversight panel to scrutinize Baker vaccine rollout

Spilka wants info on plans for teachers, people of color

THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE intends to put Gov. Charlie Baker on the hot seat over the vaccine rollout, calling an oversight hearing that has been used sparingly in the past.

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano said Wednesday morning that they will convene a joint committee for a series of oversight hearings to get answers from the administration on its vaccine efforts.

The hearings will be held by the newly-created Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, with the first slated for February 25. Legislators are seeking testimony from the Baker administration on its past, current, and future vaccine distribution and administration plans.

“The Commonwealth seems to have been underprepared for the complexities in Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout,” said Rep. Bill Driscoll Jr. of Milton, the House chair of the committee, in a statement. Phase 1 began in December and technically ended February 1, when Phase 2 began with the inoculation of people over 75.

“We look forward talking to them about this,” said Baker at a Wednesday press conference at the State House where he announced the next phase of the vaccine rollout, pointed to rapidly improving metrics, and emphasized that the real problem is not enough vaccines to meet demand.

Baker said he talked to Spilka and Mariano over the weekend and talks to lawmakers regularly.

Spilka said its essential to get a better understanding of the Baker administration’s plans to improve vaccination rates in communities that have been hard hit by the coronavirus, as well as teachers and people of color.

“We have heard the frustration and anger of people across Massachusetts about the constantly changing and confusing vaccination rollout plan, and we are using the tools at our disposal to help people get answers, especially about what we can expect moving forward,” she said in a press statement.

Massachusetts now ranks ninth among states for initial dose vaccinations per capita, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan was developed by experts and guided by science, but the rollout has been marked by both logistical and communications shortcomings,” said Mariano in an emailed statement. “It is our hope that through these hearings we will ascertain valuable information about the failures of the rollout and help contribute to solutions for the people of the Commonwealth.

In addition to the Baker administration, the committee will be inviting the chairs of the Joint Committees on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion and Healthcare Financing and Public Health to testify. The February 25 hearing will be remote, and will be by invitation only, but viewable by the public. Public testimony will be gathered at a hearing in the coming weeks.

Lawmakers tend to use their oversight power sparingly. An ongoing 17-member oversight committee, launched by former House speaker Robert DeLeo, has been assessing the outbreak and mismanagement of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, with its most recent hearing on January 21. An oversight committee was also called back in 2019 when the processing of license violations by the state’s Registry of Motor vehicles was scrutinized following a horrific accident in New Hampshire involving a driver who should have had his license revoked.

Mariano recently called Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, which started February 1 for those 75 and older, a “virtual disaster.”

Baker spent much of Wednesday heralding the expansion of who will be able to get the vaccine. The addition of those 65-74 and anyone with two serious health conditions will almost double the number of residents who are eligible for shots, even though his administration will only have 139,000 first doses available for administration next week.

Meet the Author

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.

“These two groups that we’re now opening up the vaccination process to represent approximately 1 million people,” he said. “Unless we see a massive increase in shipments from the feds, it will take us at least a month for people in these new groups to be able to book their first vaccine appointment.”

Baker also said that the 2-1-1 call center has been streamlining vaccine appointment issues, and that over a thousand calls were handled each day on the first weekend it was open.