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Lawmakers Say Equity Still An Issue In Massachusetts COVID Vaccine Plan

BOSTON (CBS) – At an oversight hearing aimed at analyzing the state's vaccine rollout, Massachusetts lawmakers voiced concerns about equity. They also accused the Baker administration of scrapping two decades of planning to mobilize local public health departments to deliver vaccines, instead giving no-bid contracts to private companies to run the state's mass vaccination sites.

"The statistics remain startling," said State Sen. Jo Comerford, Chair of the Joint Committee on COVID-19, "As of March 16 in Chelsea, where 68% of the population is Latinx, just 4% of Latinx residents have been fully vaccinated."

A handful of public health officials told the committee they were prepared to ramp up their capabilities and deliver COVID-19 vaccines but they were sidelined by the Baker administration.

"The administration instead has spent hundreds of millions more taxpayer dollars to hire consultants and private organizations to run its clinics while ignoring the plans and capabilities of local health departments," said Dawn Carmen Sibor, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association.

Governor Charlie Baker told the committee that the unique refrigeration needs of some COVID-19 vaccines created challenges that could not be met by public health departments. He also said that only 15% of vaccines are administered from the state's mass vaccination sites while hospitals and pharmacies administer the brunt of them.

There are 13 regional vaccination sites in addition to the mass vaccination sites.

"There is no region of the state that lacks access. In fact, virtually every resident of the Commonwealth lives within 30 miles of a mass vaccination site or with 15 miles of a regional site," Baker said.

In recent weeks, Massachusetts has come from behind, now ranking first vaccine doses per capita among states that have 5 million residents or more.

According to the most recent data, Massachusetts is also making up ground among communities of color. However, Latino residents have received about 12% of vaccinations and account for about 22% of COVID-19 cases.

This will be the second time Baker has testified before the panel. Last month, the governor told them the biggest issue has been the limited supply of the vaccine.

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