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Baker Defends Vaccine Strategy, Use Of Large Sites In Oversight Hearing

Gov. Charlie Baker during his second appearance before the oversight committee. (SHNS)
Gov. Charlie Baker during his second appearance before the oversight committee. (SHNS)

In his second appearance before a legislative COVID-19 oversight committee, Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday argued that his administration has led a nation-leading vaccination effort using a strategy backed up by federal guidance.

Baker specifically defended his administration's use of mass vaccination sites and its decision to not use local emergency response plans, two issues that commanded a lot of focus and debate among members of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management and the officials it invited to testify.

"I appreciate that some point to plans developed in a pre-COVID world and ask why we chose not to follow them. The fact is that COVID — and the vaccines developed so far to prevent it — present unique challenges that forced us to make adjustments," Baker said in his opening remarks. "The extremely limited supply, the need for cold and ultracold storage, the prep process, the potential for spoilage and the two-dose regimen were all on-the-ground realities that required a different playbook than the one we developed and is different from the one we would have used to battle an outbreak using a traditional, understood, and widely available antibiotic."

A panel of local public health officials earlier Tuesday told lawmakers that they felt sidelined by the administration, which chose not to rely on emergency response plans that local entities have developed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the H1N1 outbreak.

The governor said he also wanted to talk Tuesday about how vaccine doses, which are limited to what the federal government allocates to Massachusetts, are distributed across the state "as we learned through media reports that the committee wants to discuss the value of mass vaccination sites."

"For all the attention that mass vaccination sites have received, they have only administered about 15% of the vaccines in the state to date," he said. "Hospitals are the number one vaccinator at 33%, followed by CVS and Walgreens at 21%, and the regional collaboratives and local health departments are just behind the mass vax sites at 11%. Community health centers have distributed 6% of doses."

Baker's opening statement and his comment about learning what topics the committee was interested in from the media did not sit well with Sen. Cindy Friedman, who became upset with the governor and insisted "we didn't leak anything to the media."

"We have been your partners since March. We have done everything we can to be supportive to help you all to be good stewards of this whole pandemic," she said. "And I just feel like we've gotten to this point or in this vaccine where we have tried very hard — very hard — to continue that collaboration and what we're getting from you is, 'You're all wrong, we're doing great. Please, we don't want to hear it anymore.' And I find that really hard to take."

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