Massachusetts lawmakers are slamming the Baker administration's new coronavirus vaccine companion policy as "dangerous," denouncing the measure's failure to address the barriers facing people over the age of 75.
“I think it’s terribly embarrassing. I think it shows that the current system is failing," State Rep. Mike Connolly said of the Massachusetts vaccine rollout.
Connolly, a Democrat from Cambridge, is one of over 20 legislators who signed a four page letter to Gov. Charlie Baker Thursday, sounding the alarm on rules that allow people who accompany seniors to mass vaccination sites to get their own shots as well.
The new policy, part of an effort to make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to eligible seniors, opens up vaccination opportunities to many residents who would otherwise not be eligible in the current phase of the state's vaccination plan.
The system will lead to unintended consequences, lawmakers warn, that could put thousands of healthy adults ahead of those most at risk.
A spokesperson for the state's COVID-19 Command Center defended the move in an email to NBC10 Boston.
“The policy to allow a 75 or older residents to be accompanied by a caregiver, who can also schedule their vaccine appointment, to a mass vaccination site is widely supported by senior groups and provides critical support and comfort for seniors who may be hesitant to go a mass vaccination site alone," the spokesperson said. "The Command Center implores seniors to only bring a companion who they know and trust.”
Baker himself issued a warning Thursday after hearing that some people are trying to take advantage of new companion eligibility rules to get residents 75 and older to bring them to vaccination sites.
Legislators are now urging Baker to put the companion program on hold until those 65 and older, people with chronic conditions and essential workers are vaccinated.
"I really view the way this policy was rolled out as a complete mess," Connolly said. "I’m encouraging the Baker administration to revisit it through the lens of equity and delivering the vaccine to where people are at.”
Additionally, the group of lawmakers are calling on Baker to send doses directly to local boards of health.
The state is over reliant on private, for-profit entities to manage mass vaccination sites, the letter asserts, which is, "hurting our ability to vaccinate and protect our seniors throughout the commonwealth.”
Local health departments have been begging the state for more doses of the coronavirus vaccine, claiming they're getting shorting-changed on their orders.
Baker has come under fire over what some have found a cumbersome and confusing vaccine sign-up process. Massachusetts earned a failing grade for its coronavirus vaccine rollout, labeled one of the worst in the nation in a recent Harvard report.