Market Basket supermarkets will host a series of walk-up mobile vaccine clinics in hard-hit communities across Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Wednesday.
The new mobile COVID-19 vaccination program, intended to increase access to coronavirus vaccines in disproportionately impacted communities, will be hosted in several Market Basket parking lots.
Anyone who gets a vaccine at a Market Basket in Massachusetts will get a $25 gift card that can be used in the grocery store. Appointments are not necessary.
"I want to thank Market Basket for generously hosting these clinics on their properties. We know these are convenient community locations, they're very heavily traveled, as anybody's ever been to one knows," Baker said. "We encourage all residents to come down and get their vaccine while they're doing their shopping. While we've made great progress in vaccinating our residents, we know there's still a lot more work to do."
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Five mobile clinics will launch Thursday in Chelsea, Fall River, Lawrence, Lynn and Revere. The sites will be available Thursday through Saturday this week and the same days next week, from June 10 through June 12. The full schedule will be posted at CIC-health.com/marketbasket.
Baker was joined by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders Wednesday at a Market Basket in Chelsea to announce the program, which is part of a $30 million initiative to address vaccine hesitancy and increase access to vaccines in the state's 20 hardest-hit communities.
"As we get closer to that goal of vaccinating over 4 million residents with two shots, we've been ramping up targeted community outreach efforts to reach the remaining residents," Baker said.
Baker noted that Massachusetts is leading the country with vaccinations. To date, almost 3.7 million people are fully vaccinated in the state and over 4.3 million people have had at least the first dose. About 79% of all adult residents and almost two-thirds of all residents have received at least one dose.
"I can't say this enough -- it's very clear based on everything that's happened here in Massachusetts since people began getting vaccinated back in December, that the vaccines do save lives, and they are a big part of how we got back to normal," Baker said. "Get vaccinated to protect yourself. Get vaccinated to protect your friends. Get vaccinated to protect your family. Get vaccinated to protect your neighbors and your communities."
There are over 900 locations throughout the Bay State offering coronavirus vaccines for free.
Baker's public appearance came amid a disagreement with the Massachusetts Legislature over $5.3 billion in pandemic relief funds.
After the legislature took steps Tuesday morning to move the state's lump sum of American Rescue Plan Act federal assistance into a "segregated fund" to be appropriated separately from the state budget process, Baker's office suggested it is not on board with the legislature's plan. Baker addressed the issue Wednesday.
"First of all, there is a timeframe, and a time limit on a lot of those funds, you know, some of them you can spend until a certain date," Baker said. "So it's important that we recognize and understand that we need to put this money to work relatively quickly."
Baker's office said one of his commitments -- to direct $100 million of the discretionary funding to four cities that are set to receive disproportionately less federal stimulus than other cities and towns under ARPA -- could be jeopardized by the legislation. If it were to pass, the governor could not direct that money to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph without legislative appropriation.
"Let's take the $100 million that I thought we all agreed we were going to give to places like Chelsea and Everett and Methuen and Randolph, all of whom were horribly under-reimbursed under the federal ARPA program," Baker said.
Of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, 347 of them have received those federal funds, Baker noted. All four communities that haven't - one of which is Chelsea - were "really hard-hit," by COVID-19, according to Baker.
"They are exactly the kinds of communities that deserve our support," Baker said Wednesday. "We're gonna have a conversation, obviously, with the legislature and say to them, you know, 'Do you really want to treat these four communities differently? Or should we be doing exactly for them what is actually going on for the other 347? Why do that now?'"
Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka jointly announced their plan to pass legislation requiring Comptroller William McNamara to move the money, which the state received May 19, into a new account created in the fiscal year 2021 budget.
The House passed the bill Tuesday and the Senate is expected to follow suit next week.
"A public legislative process will allow all communities, especially those impacted the most by COVID-19, to help determine where investments are most needed," Mariano and Spilka said. "These investments may potentially be spread out over a number of years to ensure our continued economic vitality."
The legislature's desire to have more say over how the ARPA money is spent comes after House lawmakers told Baker's budget chief about their frustrations that they hadn't been given enough information about how much federal aid has already been spent and how the administration decided how it would spend that funding.
Rep. John Barrett told said at an April hearing that lawmakers "almost feel like we're being left out of the process." A spokeswoman for Baker declined to comment when asked if Baker would veto the segregated fund legislation should it reach his desk.
More on COVID in Mass.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio is calling on Baker and other officials to appear before a Senate oversight committee to answer questions about the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home last year.
In a letter to Senate President Karen Spilka, DiZoglio said a hearing is necessary because an investigation into the outbreak, commissioned by Baker, failed to place blame on the governor himself. DiZoglio's calls come on the heels of a Boston Globe Spotlight report that said the Baker administration failed to address poor leadership at the home.
When asked about the issue Wednesday, Baker pointed to the resignation of former Veterans' Services Secretary Francisco Urena, almost exactly one year ago to date, and the June 2020 report from former U.S. Attorney Mark Pearlstein, which Baker commissioned.
"I said at the time when he resigned that he was a fabulous voice for our veterans here in the Commonwealth of Mass. and obviously served honorably as a member of the Marines,' Baker said. "But the report that was done by Mark Pearlstein as well as other reports indicated that we had a supervision issue with respect to the Soldiers' Home and we accepted Francisco's resignation. I wish him well and whatever he chooses to do next."