A timely and effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations is critical to righting Massachusetts’ economy and enabling the state and its businesses to exit this never-ending state of crisis. And somehow, Charlie Baker bungled it.
The latest fumble came last week, when the state’s vaccine appointment-finder website crashed under the burden of newly eligible vaccine-seekers rushing to book their slots. Around 1 million Bay Staters became eligible for vaccines Thursday morning as the governor suddenly announced that those over 65 and those with multiple health conditions qualified.
Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel confirmed Thursday that the Baker administration grossly underestimating the computer server capacity needed to handle the demand surge, despite media reports that the crash was in fact the second last week. Even worse, a spokesperson for the state’s COVID-19 command center confirmed to the State House News Service that officials hadn’t yet added the more than 70,000 appointments the Baker administration had promised would be available by Thursday morning.
Officials have yet to explain the foul-up as of this writing, but it’s sadly the latest in a string of bad calls during the vaccine rollout by a governor and an administration that pride themselves on management savvy.
When vaccines first became available to members of the public over age 75 – not all of whom have internet access – the administration initially showed up with nothing more than an online map of vaccination sites and what some described as “a maze of links” to local vaccination providers, leaving a process that should literally save thousands of lives to a disparate collection of local health departments, pharmacies and others.
And when setting up mass-vaccination sites, the administration seemed to leave equity as an afterthought despite the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has taken on largely working-class, largely minority communities like Chelsea and Roxbury. Instead of on-the-ground marketing to overcome vaccine wariness and communication gaps and launching mass-vaccination sites in these communities, Baker initially rolled out clinics at Fenway Park and exurban Gillette Stadium. Local officials and community nonprofits had to set up their own.
Fortunately, legislators are stepping up to do their duty. Administration officials are scheduled to testify before a special oversight committee Feb. 25, and lawmakers should not let them off the hook without a satisfactory explanation for the state’s principal failures in the vaccine rollout.
Quickly immunizing nearly 7 million people is no small affair, and restrictions imposed by the federal vaccine supply chain don’t help matters. But Baker and his lieutenants had months to plan and put resources in place so Massachusetts would be ready for this moment; they shouldn’t be building an airplane in mid-air. While there is little doubt their hearts are in the right place, the voters they serve deserve to know what went wrong and why.
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