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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker slammed for COVID vaccine website issues as he blames limited federal supply

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 2/25/2021 Steph Solis, masslive.com

Massachusetts lawmakers pressed Gov. Charlie Baker on his response to the online booking options for the state’s vaccine rollout as he placed the blame on a limited federal supply.

The Republican governor described the vaccine rollout, particularly in Phase 2, as “lumpy and bumpy” as he testified before the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Thursday morning.

“That’s what happens when people are doing something that’s never been done before,” Baker said. “To work through the issues that arose, our administration held regular briefings for legislators, local officials, boards of health and other interested parties, including provider organizations.”

Baker touted the state’s recent improvements, reiterating that among states with more than 5 million people, Massachusetts leads in administering first doses per capita. But lawmakers repeatedly reminded Baker their questions weren’t about the latest improvements, but the speed bumps along the way.

Legislators have lodged a series of questions in recent weeks about the rollout, ranging from why the state didn’t start with a call center to why caregivers of any age accompanying 75-year-old residents could get a vaccine early to why hospitals and boards of health were abruptly told they wouldn’t get new shipments (the state has since announced plans to resume shipments for hospitals).

“I am just baffled at what we’ve been through and my experience of this is very different than the one you’ve laid out,” Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat who serves on the committee, told Baker. “I can say as someone who has been involved in this process, and deeply involved since March, that even I with all my knowledge and completely at a loss as to what is going on at times and what is going to come next.”

But committee members on Thursday focused on the website that crashed last week and that residents complained was not user-friendly since its launch last month.

Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, pushed back against Baker’s characterization of the rollout in the latest phase.

“It has not been lumpy and bumpy,” Lesser said on Thursday. “It has been a failure. My constituents and all of our constituents are justifiably outraged and asking why the governor of Massachusetts in the healthcare and technology capital of the country cannot figure out how to operate a website.”

In addition to limited federal supply, Baker said one of the challenges with the booking website is some community health centers, hospitals and other providers don’t want to offer appointments through the PrepMod website.

Lesser said Baker initially dismissed concerns that the website was hard to use, quoting his remarks in late January: “You said, ‘determine if you’re eligible on the site, find a location that’s providing vaccinations that’s convenient to you, click on it, make an appointment, how much more streamlined would you like it to be?’”

“That’s exactly how people accessed and booked 300,000 appointments on that website,” Baker replied.

Baker said his administration continues to make improvements to the PrepMod website. Asked whether his administration had ordered or conducted an analysis of the website’s loading capacity, Baker did not have an answer.

While Baker continued to point to a lack of federal supply, Lesser said nobody disagreed that supply is a challenge but that that doesn’t explain why the website crashed.

Baker’s testimony was the first in a long lineup of vendors, state health officials, legislators and local advocates for hard-hit communities who plan to discuss the vaccine rollout and how to make it easier for residents across the state.

Baker left around noon to leave for Salem, where he will deliver updates on the state’s reopening plan at 1 p.m.

Rep. Bill Driscoll, co-chair of the committee, asked Baker to return to the next committee hearing in two weeks. The governor said he looks forward to coming back.

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