The focus will be on at-risk populations getting the vaccine, the governor said. c
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday defended his administration's strategy of taking a phased approach to COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
"I really hope — and I know this isn't popular — but I really hope that, early on, we are able with the vaccine that is available, to hit the populations for whom life is most at risk and on whom the health-care system relies on and depends to provide care," Baker said.
On the day that he announced the start next week of statewide distribution to residents and staff at congregate care facilities, Baker pushed back against the idea that "regular people" are being unfairly excluded in the commonwealth's phased approach to vaccinations.
"I do know that in a lot of states, people who are the same age as my kids have gotten vaccinated before people who are home-health workers, or health-care workers or long-term workers or long-term care residents or some of these other populations or people who have multiple comorbidities or are over the age of 70," Baker said. "Honestly, I just don't think that's the way we should do this.
"I think the focus early on should be on those who have the most to lose or who are fundamental to our ability to take care of those who have the most to lose."
In Massachusetts, that meant starting with health-care workers and expanding on Monday to first-responders. Next week, the focus expands to include 94,000 individuals living and working in congregate care facilities.
"Congregate care sites include residential congregate care programs, group homes, residential treatment programs, community-based acute residential treatment programs, clinical stabilization programs, shelter programs — including homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and veterans shelters — and approved private special education schools," Baker said.
It also includes correctional facilities, which drew another question from the media at Wednesday's announcement: whether it is fair to law-abiding Bay Staters to make the vaccine available to prisoners before the rest of the population.
"We made the decision early on that we were going to focus on what we considered populations that were most at risk," Baker said. "All the data and all the evidence makes pretty clear that congregate settings are at-risk communities, no matter how you define them. And I remind people that there are 4,500 public employees who work in the state's correctional system who are every bit as at risk as the people who are inmates there.
"I think from our point of view, congregate facilities are congregate facilities. We need to make sure that the people who work there and the people who live there, because of the possibility of outbreak and the issues associated with the heightened risk — the close quarters and all the rest — that should be a place where we focus early in this exercise, along with congregate care facilities for people with disabilities, congregate care facilities for seniors and other congregate care operations here in the commonwealth."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders on Wednesday announced that the state is moving residents of low-income and affordable senior housing facilities into Phase 2, Group 1 of the vaccine distribution plan.
"This change will ensure that the approximately 160,000 residents and staff of public and private low-income and affordable senior housing will be able to receive vaccines once Phase 2 begins," Sudders said.
Baker and Sudders on Wednesday were joined by the leaders of two non-profits that serve populations prioritized in the state's vaccination plan: Amy Shectman of 2Life Communities, which operates senior housing projects in three Eastern Mass communities, and Diane Gould of Advocates Inc., a Framingham-based agency serving residents with brain injuries, autism, addiction and other disabilities.
"We are very excited about this plan, as are the families we support," Gould said. "We had a family forum last night, and, to a person, family members spoke about their immense relief and appreciation. All in all, this is going extremely well. It's going to be a bright light in what has otherwise been a very dark time."
In other issues on Wednesday, Baker stopped short of saying he is in favor of President Donald Trump's impeachment but recognized that other options are off the table to accomplish what he has advocated for
: transferring the reins of power to Vice President Mike Pence in order to ensure a seamless transition to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
"Spend a minute on the COVID thing," Baker said. "Guidance from CDC on various populations. All kinds of vaccines that are in the process to receive an [emergency use authorization] that don't have one now. … We have a long discussion that's been going on for a couple of days now between the White House and the task force between the states and CVS and Walgreen's around distribution plans and this whole question about whether you go all in on everything you've got and assume you'll have second doses available for people when you need 'em or continue to pursue the policy that's been pursued to this point, which is to hold on to enough vaccine so they can guarantee they can deliver a second vaccine in the 21 days or 28 days that are required.
"These are really big issues. They're really big decisions. They're going to last way beyond Jan. 20. You talk to any governor, and I've been on calls with lots of governors on this, or you talk to any folks in the health-care world, and they want that transition to be as seamless as possible so people can plan and be able to make sure that what they hear what they hear right up until Jan. 20 is exactly the same trajectory that everything is on from Jan. 21 forward.
"From my point of view, anything that makes sure we have a very clear and very precise and very organized and coordinated transition — especially around these issues — is going to be critical to dealing what you all have talked about, the bumpiness that's been associated with this rollout in the first place-"