Gov. Charlie Baker again defended his administration’s handling of the state’s vaccine rollout efforts during a public hearing Tuesday before a state legislative panel monitoring the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Under both the Trump and Biden administrations, the federal government has distributed vaccines through the same channels we are using: mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, and community health centers,” the Republican said.
He made the comments before a virtual hearing of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.
Lawmakers pressed Baker on a range of topics, including the state’s heavy reliance on mass vaccinations sites to get shots into arms despite long-standing plans to rely on the state’s local public health infrastructure in a public health emergency.
The administration seems to have “thrown the playbook out and decided on something completely different,” said state Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat.
Baker said shots have been distributed at a range of locations, including mass vaccination sites, hospitals, Walgreens and CVS and regional collaboratives and local health departments.
The immediate goal is to fully vaccinate 4.1 million Massachusetts residents — a number Baker said will effectively constitute herd immunity for the state.
As of Tuesday, 1.1 million Massachusetts residents have been fully vaccinated.
CALL CENTER COSTS
Massachusetts has already paid more than $4 million to three companies to set up a call center to manage the scramble for coronavirus vaccine appointments the day after hundreds of thousands of older residents became eligible, and the tab is expected to grow, according to a published report.
Marylou Sudders, the state’s health secretary, signed all three contracts Feb. 23, but the companies began incurring costs related to the call center on Jan. 28, the day after people 75 and older became eligible for vaccines, dramatically increasing demand and frustrations over the difficulty in scheduling appointments, The Boston Globe reported.
Some state lawmakers are questioning the haste in which the contracts were signed.
“It sounds to me like they basically were caught unprepared and pulled the fire alarm and just started signing contracts to get the thing up and running as fast as they could,” Democratic state Sen. Eric Lesser said.
A spokesperson for the state COVID-19 Command Center said the state signed short-term contracts with the three companies as a temporary solution, with plans to hold a competitive bid for the long-term contract. She added that the call center so far has helped more than 50,000 people get appointments.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by about 1,500 on Tuesday, while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 20.
The new numbers push the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 16,578 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 582,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were about 600 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 150 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 61. There were an estimated 27,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 8,862.
More than 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 1.9 million first doses and 1 million second doses.