We’ve faced the ravages of a global pandemic and economic crisis for over a year, marshaling as much courage and patience as humanly possible. Municipal leaders, health care and frontline workers, small businesses, educators, young people, and more have risen to the challenges of this time with a combination of grace and grit.
Now, even as we grapple with fears of new virus strains and continued economic pressures, the COVID vaccine offers us glimmers of hope. Yet the rollout of this vaccine has not brought comfort. To date, for many, it has added to the burden of this already painful time.
That’s why, this week, in partnership with House Chair William Driscoll, I am convening a Legislative oversight hearing on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as the Senate Chair of the newly-formed Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. I’m heartened that Rep. Mindy Domb and Sen. Eric Lesser are members of this committee. You can view the hearing, here: https://malegislature.gov/.
This is the first in what will be a series of committee hearings on all aspects of the pandemic. For the last year, the Massachusetts House and Senate have been responding to the COVID crisis through timely legislation around issues like unemployment, mail-in voting, telehealth, and through budget spending focused on issues like the eviction crisis and food security. With the onset of this new Joint Committee, the Legislature moves into an oversight role as well.
The COVID committee has two main charges: Work in the immediate-term as a watchdog through pointed legislative oversight and work in the long-term to ensure we emerge from the pandemic stronger, more resilient, more prepared for what’s next.
These difficult days ask us all to reconcile our understanding of the complexities of this rollout with the anger and frustration we’re feeling at the ways it’s been managed. People are demanding answers and action, not excuses. You want to know that the vaccine rollout is going to get better — right now — for you and your families.
While I can’t change the fact that the commonwealth is only receiving just over 100,000 vaccine doses each week from the federal government at present — far fewer than we need to meet our demand — I have joined my colleagues in pressing the Baker administration to do much better in terms of:
Establishing a functional, usable website and call center to find and make vaccine appointments;
Prioritizing regional equity to ensure an equitable number of vaccines are delivered to our region, coupled with an equitable number of outlets that meet our unique challenges;
Articulating a predictable, measurable, transparent implementation plan that is coordinated with our local public health officials, community health centers, municipalities, and hospitals;
Ensuring transparency with regard to state decision making, and;
Ensuring that the entire process embodies a commitment to equity across race and class.
Gov. Baker wants us to make a false choice — telling us through his chaotic and ill-communicated vaccine rollout that we have to choose between speed and scale of delivery at the expense of equity of all kinds. I reject this. My constituents and I can and should expect both.
We must restore faith in the state’s ability to respond to a crisis. And, until we do, I recognize that it’s impossible for commonwealth residents to have patience on top of so much that’s broken.
So we press on.
Constituent vaccine guide
In addition to working regionally and state-wide, we have created a vaccine guide to help constituents get the latest news and see the public-facing vaccine outlets in our region. It’s here: http://bit.ly/COVID-vaccine-help.
Our charge is to meet this moment sharply on behalf of our people. With this in mind, please let me share two more updates.
Rules rules rules
At the beginning of every legislative session, the Senate votes on our chamber’s rules and the Joint Rules, which govern interactions between the House and Senate.
Rules set the stage for ways in which bills and other core business happen. Thanks to Northampton’s Noah Friedman-Kassis, we spent the summer researching rules with two intents: Increasing transparency and accountability. Democracy demands that we shine a light through the opaque committee process which is what our team advocated for with Senate colleagues. We also pressed for much greater attention to racial equity and diversity in Senate and Joint Rules processes. I’m pleased that the Senate rules package makes important gains on these fronts. More here: https://senatorjocomerford.org/on-rules/.
A new two-year legislative session began in January and my team and I filed bills to meet this moment. I’ll be holding another town hall to share more about the bills. If you’d like to look now, I invite you to scroll through a summary document that we pulled together so you didn’t have to decipher legalese or click dozens of links: http://bit.ly/BTMTM.
State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.
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