coronavirus

Biden: Mass. Gov. Baker's ‘Done a Helluva Job' With Vaccine Rollout

The governors of Massachusetts and Maine were part of a bipartisan group that discussed their COVID vaccine rollouts with President Joe Biden -- who shared some fond memories about the Red Sox

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Two New England governors met virtually with President Joe Biden on Tuesday to share best practices on their COVID vaccination efforts.

Biden hosted Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maine Gov. Janet Mills, along with four other state governors, for a virtual discussion in light of the White House's goal of getting at least 70% of adults in the U.S. at least partially vaccinated by the Fourth of July.

Biden said that part of the reason he's so confident of reaching the goal is because of governors' leadership, calling them "instrumental in helping us make progress more quickly than anyone would have thought."

Massachusetts has already met that goal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID data tracker on Monday. The commonwealth has already gotten at least one dose of the vaccine to 73% of its adults, trailing only Vermont and Hawaii nationwide.

Baker's "done a helluva job," Biden said after the governor described the state's rollout through a mix of mass vaccination sites and regional collaborations with community health centers and other providers.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Americans who hadn’t yet received the COVID-19 to do so as soon as possible. “You do need to get vaccinated,” Biden said. “This is not a Democrat or Republican issue... Two of our vaccines were authorized under a prior administration, a Republican administration.”

That approach ensured many organizations were speaking with one, unified message, Baker said: getting vaccinated "is a good idea and that this is something you should be willing to do."

Maine is close behind Massachusetts, with 69% of adults at least partially vaccinated as of Monday -- good for sixth in the nation.

Mills spoke first among the governors in the discussion, with Biden asking her how her administration reached out to people and encouraged them to get vaccinated.

She noted that Maine is the oldest state in the U.S. and that residents 60 and older were able to get vaccinated starting April 7, early on. She also noted cooperation with local health authorities and announced a new incentive program that will offer any Mainer getting their first shot a reward, like Portland Sea Dogs tickets, a $20 L.L. Bean gift card or a hunting or fishing license.

"Free tickets and vouchers? My guess is that's probably going to work!" Biden said.

The other governors who attended the bipartisan meeting -- three are Democrats, three Republicans -- are from Ohio, Utah, Minnesota and New Mexico. Those states had 53%, 56%, 63% and 67% of adults at least partially vaccinated, respectively, on Monday.

Baker was made two appearances in Worcester on Tuesday afternoon. He attended the Worcester Red Sox' inaugural Opening Day and toured businesses on Worcester's Main Street to highlight his administration's vaccine equity initiative.

The Worcester Red Sox will take on the Syracuse Mets in today's home opener.

Baker attended the virtual discussion from the WooSox' Polar Park stadium, which Biden seemed to note before the event got underway.

"Charlie, you're getting ready to play?" the president said.

"I'm just getting ready to watch and celebrate," Baker replied.

That prompted Biden to recall his former lead Secret Service agent's love for the Red Sox.

Every time they'd pass the Green Monster at Fenway Park, Biden said, "we had to bless ourselves and be silent. It's a reverent undertaking." And when Alex Rodriguez gave the then-vice president a baseball bat at the Yankees' spring training, the agent "told me he's not going to let me put it in the car."

The warm relationship that Baker, a Republican, enjoys with the Democratic president is not one that will necessarily increase Baker’s popularity among many in the largely Trump-supporting Massachusetts GOP.

"He's on thin ice with the rank-and-file of the state Republican Party, and this makes things, I think, immeasurably worse," Boston University professor Tom Whalen said.

But appearing with two other Republican governors at the meeting is a show of success and bipartisanship that has made Baker one of the most popular governors in the country, and Whalen said it "kind of reads like a reelection campaign photo-op."

Baker has not yet indicated if he will run for a third term but he has managed to take what was initially reported as a rocky vaccine roll out and turn it into a model for other states.

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