Virus Notes: Senator calls for vaccine passes

Johnson & Johnson deliveries to come up short again

SEN. BARRY FINEGOLD of Andover urged the Baker administration on Tuesday to develop some sort of identification that could be used to prove a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to gain admission to public venues such as Fenway Park.

At a legislative oversight hearing on COVID-19 and the vaccination rollout, Finegold said the federal government should take the lead in developing a vaccine pass since the pass could be used for purposes crossing state and national boundaries, such as travel. But even though the Biden administration is reportedly studying the idea, Finegold said he is skeptical any action will be taken at the federal level. He said the Baker administration must prepare to move ahead on its own.

“We can’t wait for the federal government. We made that mistake once and we can’t do it again,” Finegold said.

Israel launched its green pass in February and airlines, music venues, and other countries are closely studying the idea. New York state is pilot testing technology capable of confirming an individual’s vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test. The technology– very similar to the boarding passes passengers download from airlines – has been tested successfully at a basketball game at the Barclays Center and a hockey game at Madison Square Garden.

The thinking behind a vaccine pass is it will speed a return to something resembling normal by giving people some assurance when they go out that they will be surrounded by people who have already been vaccinated. Critics say such passes raise serious privacy and discrimination concerns, as those yet to be vaccinated or those who refused to be vaccinated could be excluded from traveling or entering participating venues.

Fineberg said he thinks most of the concerns can be addressed, but he indicated he is less concerned about people who refuse to get vaccinated. “It’s a selfish thing for people not to be vaccinated,” he said.

The senator said the state needs to start planning for a vaccine pass now because in the not too distant future the state will move from a shortage of vaccines to a surplus. He said he doesn’t think the vaccines will eliminate COVID, so the vaccine pass is a way for society to live with the virus.

At the legislative oversight hearing, Finegold didn’t get to ask the governor his stance on a vaccine pass, but Rep. Carolyn Dykema of Holliston asked the governor’s technology cabinet secretary what he thought of the idea.

Curtis Wood, the secretary of technology services and security, said he has been following the ongoing debate over vaccine passes but has received no policy directive yet from the governor.

“It’s something we don’t want to rush into,” he said. “But from a technology perspective, everything is doable.”

Tech secretary: I played secondary role in vaccine website

Curtis Wood, the governor’s secretary of technology services and security, said he played a limited role in overseeing PrepMod and other companies developing the state’s vaccine appointment website until the website crashed on February 18.

Wood said the companies involved in the effort were hired by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. He said he had a limited oversight role up until February 18, when the website crashed as people over 65 tried to secure appointments.

Curtis Wood, the secretary of technology services and security, testifying at a virtual legislative oversight hearing.

After the disastrous rollout, Wood said he stepped in and took a more hands-on role in fixing the problems. He said he hired on an emergency basis Cambridge-based Akamai and Google, which also has a major presence in Massachusetts, to help manage the project and set up the current registration system. He said Akamai actually called his office and offered to help. “We felt they were local,” he said. “We had to solve this in a day.”

Asked why some of the improvements that have been made to the website weren’t done earlier, Woods said he couldn’t answer that. “We should have done it sooner. We didn’t,” he said.

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said her office had been assured by the nonprofit that developed PrepMod that it had been load tested to handle an influx of people seeking vaccine appointments. “Their load testing obviously was not sufficient,” she said.

Tiffany Tate, the nonprofit’s executive director, said at the first legislative hearing that the site was overwhelmed by traffic on the day vaccine appointments became available to people over 65. Tate said she knew there would be a lot of people seeking appointments, but she wasn’t personally notified the day when the website was going live.

Baker calls reopening decisions a balancing act

Gov. Charlie Baker characterized his recent decision to move the state into Phase 4 of its reopening effort as a balancing act, weighing the potential risk of infection spread against the need to get the state’s economy up and running.

Rep. William Driscoll of Milton said his reading of the state’s COVID-19 figures indicates the state has plateaued at levels last seen in November. “Right now we’re at a baseline or trending upward,” he said, raising concerns that the reopening is premature.

“I agree with that,” Baker said, but noted that the data trends on COVID-19 have to be balanced against high vaccination rates for people over 75 (80 percent) and 65 (70 percent) and COVID-19 hospitalization rates down 20 percent since the beginning of March.

Baker said the state’s two biggest COVID-19 clusters right now were caused by a “church community” on Cape Cod and a giant high school party in his hometown of Swampscott. Baker said the pandemic is not over and people need to be careful. “People still need to keep their guard up,” he said.

Another Johnson & Johnson disappointment

Gov. Charlie Baker said deliveries of Johnson & Johnson‘s single-dose vaccines will fall several million doses short of expectations next week.

Baker said the nation’s governors had expected to receive between 4 and 6 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, but were told by the federal government on Tuesday that only 2 million doses would go to states and 1.5 million to pharmacies.

Baker said the good news is that some doses will be delivered. He said a Politico story on Monday had indicated no doses might arrive.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Mass. applying for FEMA mass vaccination site

Gov. Charlie Baker took a lot of heat at Tuesday’s legislative oversight hearing for placing too much emphasis on mass vaccination sites, but he didn’t seem deterred. He said Massachusetts is applying to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a federally supported mass vaccination site.