Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that he thinks President Joe Biden's objective of having all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1 and allowing people from different households to gather by July 4 is "absolutely doable" as long as the vaccine supply ramps up over the coming month.
"No matter how you do the math, we're one of the top vaccinators as a state in the country," Baker said. "Within a matter of days, every dose we get from the feds ends up in somebody's arms. If the feds can actually deliver on the vaccine supply issue that we've all been talking about -- the message we keep getting is we're just a couple weeks away -- I think getting to the president's objective is absolutely doable. But it's going to require a significant increase in the available supply to be able to deliver that kind of volume over a reasonably short period of time."
"I would love to have the problem of having so much supply that we don't know what to do with it," the governor added. "If they really do deliver at the end of March, beginning of April, end of April, then I think the president's objectives are absolutely achievable."
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In his first primetime address to the nation on Thursday night, Biden announced that he is directing states to make all adults, ages 18 and up, eligible for the coronavirus vaccines by May 1. He also set a goal for Americans to be able to gather in person with their friends and loved ones in small groups to celebrate the Fourth of July.
"Obviously, the folks in D.C. know a lot more about what's in the pipeline than we do," Baker said. "They have said several times now there will be a significant increase in Pfizer, Moderna and J&J by the end of March. If they mean significant, and that translates to significant increases in the early part of April, that could make a big difference."
"Don't underestimate the power of the J&J vaccine to change the game because it's a one dose," he added.
Right now, the state is administering about 250,000 doses of vaccine per week. If all of those were one-dose vaccines, Baker said it would dramatically increase how quickly people can be vaccinated.
Baker spoke Friday after touring St. Mary's School in Lynn and participating in a roundtable discussion with students and staff on the importance of in-person learning. Cardinal Sean O’Malley was also in attendance.
The event came as Baker continues to butt heads with the Massachusetts Teachers Association over bringing students back to school and vaccinating teachers.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Education Commissioner Jeff Riley had a meeting Thursday morning with the Massachusetts Teachers Association to discuss vaccinations.
The latest effort to find common ground resulted in the administration issuing a searing condemnation of the union's request that doses be set aside for teachers and administered locally at schools.
"The Baker-Polito Administration is dismayed that despite reasonable efforts to prioritize educator vaccinations, the teachers unions continue to demand the Commonwealth take hundreds of thousands of vaccines away from the sickest, oldest and most vulnerable residents in Massachusetts and divert them to the unions' members, 95% of which are under age 65," Tim Buckley, a senior advisor to the governor, said in a statement on Thursday.
The state’s top three teachers unions called the governor’s accusations against them Thursday “defamatory.”
"This is the Baker Administration reaching a new height of dishonesty," said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "It's not clear to us how what came out of that meeting got translated into Baker's statement."
"I'm actually quite surprised at the vitriol," said Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts. "The governor characterizes it as us wanting to take vaccines away from the sick and the elderly, which is totally untrue."
A day earlier, Najimy had said the state's vaccine rollout for teachers had been "poorly timed" with plans to bring elementary students back to the classroom full-time by April 5, followed by middle schoolers on April 28.
The unions got support from nearly 50 state lawmakers, who sent a letter to the governor Thursday urging him to move forward with the teachers' vaccine plan and to delay the start of full-time in-person learning.
"So that we have additional time for supply to come to the commonwealth and for teachers and staff to be able to get their vaccination appointments," state Sen. Becca Rausch said.
Baker only opened the state's vaccination program to teachers on Thursday after the White House last week urged states to begin vaccinating educators in March and began pushing doses for teachers through the federal pharmacy vaccine program.
The administration then announced on Wednesday that it would set aside four weekend days in late March and early April at the state's seven mass vaccinations when teachers exclusively could book vaccine appointments.
The governor also said he was encouraging regional vaccine collaboratives to also specify days for educators. But Baker and Sudders both cited vaccine supply constraints as limiting their ability to set aside more vaccines.
"We don't have more doses to give," Sudders said Wednesday.
Buckley said the administration "implores the unions to do the math."
"Diverting hundreds of thousands of vaccines to an exclusive, teacher-only distribution system would deny the most vulnerable and the most disproportionately impacted residents hundreds of thousands of vaccines," Buckley said.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association said it is calling for the state to push back the return to fully in-person learning until after April break, so all school staff can get their first shot before then.
"We left the meeting with a clear understanding of the commissioner saying there is simply not enough doses for school employees to get the first shot in their arm by April 5," Najimy said.
The administration irresponsibly and dishonestly pit “educators and unions against families and communities,” she said.