PITTSFIELD — At a visit to Berkshire Community College on Saturday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, praised local vaccine administration efforts and called Gov. Charlie Baker’s rollout “unacceptable.”
“The rollout has been slow and bumpy,” she told reporters at the clinic. “It’s better now, but every single person that I have spoken to here said they had trouble getting signed up. ... That’s unacceptable anywhere. But it is particularly unacceptable in Massachusetts.”
Local coordinators stressed the need for more doses and Warren echoed their concerns, asking about everything from clinic organization to the syringes used to administer doses.
Her visit comes as the Berkshire County vaccine team and legislators across the state have criticized Baker’s reliance on private companies, such as CIC Health, which runs vaccination sites in Eastern Massachusetts, and argued that the governor’s focus on mass vaccination clinics has sidelined regional collaboratives and local boards of health that could reach the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Warren said that the federal government was working to get more vaccine distribution funds to states but that Congress was also relying on states to spend that money “well,” and she praised the volunteers, staff and organization of the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative.
“This is all done publicly,” Warren said. “It’s not a big private contractor dragging in millions of dollars to run this operation. … This is the best possible use of public money. It’s effective, and it’s local. That’s what we need more of.”
Warren acknowledged that private industry has a role to play in fighting the pandemic, particularly in manufacturing and supply chains.
“But nothing substitutes for a public commitment to public services,” she told The Eagle. “Look at what we have here at BCC. The public planning and execution of a complex distribution scheme, aided by volunteers. This site would not be better run by a for-profit outfit that was more intent on squeezing out profits than on delivering services. We need to remember that all the way through our healthcare system.”
Earlier this week Baker defended the rollout against claims he had prioritized private companies and sidelined existing plans by public health officials to manage a vaccine rollout. Baker said those plans were not suited to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re the No. 1 state in the country across almost every metric, every measure that the CDC keeps track of for states that have more than 4 million people,” he said. “We have a long way to go and a ton of work to do and I wouldn’t begin to say for a minute we don’t. But I do believe given all the issues associated with supply, the nature of the supply, the nature of the rollout, how fast it has to happen and how people need to manage the product itself, we made the right decision.”
But state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, told The Eagle on Saturday he does not find the governor’s comments “credible” given the efficiency of the Berkshires’ sites.
“We’re the example he uses on a regular basis of an efficient, well-run process, and we’re following exactly the plan we put in place [before the pandemic],” Hinds said.
Though Berkshire vaccine coordinators have the capacity to administer doses at the same rate as mass vaccination sites across the state – and, they point out, at no additional cost to the commonwealth – the collaborative has seen shipments fall in Phase Two, and the county is lagging most of the state in its 65- to 74-year-old contingent, according to state data from Tuesday.
During her visit, Warren met privately with state legislators and the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative before taking a tour of the clinic, which served some 1,100 people, including educators and school staff who had access to their own sign-up portal for the first time.
Among the people who spoke with Warren were Mayor Tom Bernard of North Adams, Mayor Linda Tyer of Pittsfield, Hinds and state Reps. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. Warren also met with leaders of the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative, including Laura Kittross, Leslie Drager, Dan Doyle, Richard Hall and Darlene Rodowicz of Berkshire Health Systems.
Members of the collaborative said that during the private meeting with the senator they stressed the need for more doses in the county.
During her tour of the facility, Warren met with people who had been vaccinated and commiserated that the registration process was “aggravating.”
“It’s a lot of hours spent,” she said. “And a lot of people not reaching [the vaccines].”
In the meeting with vaccine leaders, Sen. Warren also spent some time describing how funding signed into law by President Biden would flow to down to states and municipalities, people who spoke with her privately said.
Local coordinators told The Eagle they were glad that the senator had a chance to visit the clinic.
“It’s nice that she can see the whole process,” said Drager. “We explained to her that we could do 20,000 vaccines a week between the three clinics.”