Despite Sharp Criticism, Baker Sticks With Vaccine Companion Program

Feb 15, 2021

Massachusetts residents who accompany someone 75 years or older to get the coronavirus vaccine can get one too, even if they aren't otherwise eligible. Governor Charlie Baker is standing by this companion plan, even as some lawmakers blast it.

Matt Murphy with State House News Service joins us to look at some of the criticism the governor has been facing.

Adam Frenier, NEPM:  We saw over the weekend that Governor Baker continued to defend his offer to let people not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccine get it, if they accompany someone 75 years or older. And yet some state lawmakers say this will make it easier for people who are healthier and better off to get the vaccine, and delay shots for people over 65, teachers and other essential workers. What's the latest on this?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Yeah, this policy is less than a week old and developed, the governor said, with a number of elder advocates and outside organizations who thought this was a way to make it easier and more accessible for the most elderly and vulnerable to get the shot. But you're right, we have seen a lot of immediate pushback.

The governor, for now, is sticking with it. I'm sure there is a concern that changing course now would cause even more confusion. But a number of lawmakers and others saying that not only do they worry that this could postpone the rollout of a vaccine to 65 and older residents of Massachusetts, as well as teachers, people with underlying health conditions — but they also think it could exacerbate an equity problem in the vaccine rollout in that this does not make it easier for people who don't have access to cars, or have family members who can take time off to work to drive them.

Not to mention the fact that we've seen a number of potentially dangerous situations crop up on websites like Craigslist and others with people trying to cash in on this system, offering to drive seniors. So there is a concern there for fraud and abuse in this system.

But, for now, the governor is sticking with this plan. He believes that this is a good way to get 75 and older people access to this. And the quicker he moves through that cohort, he thinks, the faster he can roll out the vaccine to more groups.

In the House, new Speaker Ron Mariano made some significant changes to the leadership ranks. There are now four women in prominent leadership roles in the House and one person of color. But that effort fell short, according to the Jetpac Resource Center. The group said in a statement that the "diversity problem in Massachusetts politics results in significant harm" to racial and ethnic minorities. Matt, are lawmakers expressing similar disappointment?

We haven't heard as a sharp criticism from lawmakers. If there's one thing that we know about Speaker Mariano is that he's an institutionalist. And unfortunately, diversity is a problem throughout the legislature, including in the House. And if you look at the leadership team the speaker built, he did elevate a number of women. The first woman majority leader in Rep. Claire Cronin. Rep. Frank Moran, the former chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, is now a member of the leadership team. He is from Lawrence. But the ranks of minority members was rather thin in the House to begin with. So you don't see much more joining the upper echelons of the leadership team.

Now, Frank Moran said people should judge the speaker on the entirety of the assignments. And if you look further through the committee postings, a number of lawmakers of color getting assigned to vice chairmanships of key committees: Rep. John Santiago, Tram Nguyen, Rep. Liz Miranda of Boston, all getting vice chairmanships and more — building a pipeline so that in future years you could see these lawmakers elevated to chairmanships and potentially leadership positions. But certainly there are people who would have liked to see the speaker move faster.

From a western Massachusetts perspective, state Representative Bud Williams of Springfield is going to chair the Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion Committee. Also, Senator Jo Comerford of Northampton and Adam Hinds of Pittsfield will lead committees focused on COVID-19. Any surprises there? Do the assignments carry any real power?

Oh, they absolutely carry some power. It'll be very interesting to see what Representative Williams does with this brand new committee. We know that this is intended to play an oversight role, so we will look to see what he does there.

As for Senator Hinds, he is in a prime position to guide the Senate in as a revenue chair and some of his other positions as the Senate looks to get back on the horse, so to speak, and look at transportation revenue, look at the tax structure. He spent a lot of the past session studying this for the Senate. We're expecting progress in the Senate over these next two years on these issues. So he will be the go-to person as lawmakers start to think about where they want to invest money and how they're going to pay for it.

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