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Despite 'Lumpy And Bumpy' Start, Baker Says Massachusetts Is Top COVID Vaccine Performer

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WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller talks to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JON KELLER: Well, good morning, and welcome to part two of our conversation with Governor Charlie Baker.

Now that things are going better with the vaccination rollout, memories are short, perhaps people will forget the early problems that occurred. But we have seen your approval rating and polls take a dive. Two common comments that I hear about those early problems I want your response to because they strike me as impressions that might linger.

One is they had months and months to plan for this. Why didn't they plan better? And the other is you'd think a high tech, highly educated state would have been smarter and more tech savvy when it came to things like websites and access. Can you address those two complaints?

GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: Well, I guess the first thing I'd say, John, is at this point in time, we are a national leader with respect to how many people are getting vaccinated and where they're getting vaccinated and how the program and the process is working. I think in some ways, we also prioritized some populations early on and some communities that we felt were vulnerable that didn't get the same attention in other states that they got here in Massachusetts.

Generally speaking, no one's done what all 50 states and most of the rest of the world are up to here, which is putting to work a vaccine program that involves a vaccine that is in limited supply, which straight out of the gate creates all kinds of interesting issues for people. But in addition to that, requires very special guidance and special tools with respect to your ability to both freeze it and store it and thaw it and use it.

And I think for everybody, not just here in Massachusetts, but everywhere else creates some interesting dynamics around the rollout. But I'm very pleased about the fact that we made adjustments as we went along here. We said it would be lumpy and bumpy to begin with, and it was.

But we're now performing as well as any state in the country with respect to shots in arms and people fully vaccinated. And in the end, I do believe, by the time you get to the end of May, the beginning of summer, 4th of July, whichever particular milestone you want to pursue, we're going to be as good as or better than anybody else in the country. And that's what the people of Massachusetts deserve.

JON KELLER: Well, give me an example of a lesson learned from the early stumbles that you can carry forward.

GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: I think in some respects there are many lessons learned, and we did the best we could to incorporate them into how we made decisions. I think with respect to supply, we did not expect-- we were told in December that we would have more supply than we knew what to do with by February. That certainly didn't turn out to be true.

We heard the same thing in January about March. That didn't turn out to be true. That created a real dynamic and a high level of anxiety for people, which I completely understand.

And I think the decision to create a pre-registration program that would make it possible for people to sort of hold their place in line or get a place in line came out of our concerns about the fact that supply just wasn't going to be there for a while. And we're pleased that at this point it does seem we're going to have the supply we need to be able to move quickly through the rest of the community and the population.

JON KELLER: Former Governor Mitt Romney, now Senator from Utah, called the President's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act "a clunker, filled with bad policies and sloppy math that wastes hundreds of billions of dollars." Senator Susan Collins of Maine who you endorsed last fall said, "it can't be justified." Do you agree with them?

GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: I think in many ways, if I've learned any lessons since the beginning of this pandemic, is that we should all be really careful about making absolute statements about much of anything. If you go back and even look at some of the early things that Dr. Fauci said, you know, who's among the smartest people who's played this hand since the beginning and you just took some of the things he said in March, April, and May, you know--

I'll give you a really simple one. He was quoted pretty early on as saying he didn't think there was a lot of asymptomatic transmission with COVID. That turned out to be a giant, huge issue for all of us as we were dealing with managing this issue going through this. So I'm not much of a fan of absolute statements.

What I do believe is that getting out of this is critical to everyone and the economic impact of this, separate and apart from anything that's associated with decisions that were made at the federal, state level, is profound. Just think about what business travel is going to look like, even when we get back after the pandemic. Or think about how many people are going to be working from home more time than they ever used to because they can.

The impact of those things on the future of our economy and the future of work and people's ability to find and get and keep a good job are going to be profound. And those are things that the federal government is probably going to have to help states and locals figure out. And I would argue that in some respects that requires a lot of resources.

And, you know, whether this thing is exactly the right number or exactly the right categories or all the rest I think is a really hard question to answer. And honestly, I think on both sides I'd appreciate a little less absolutism and a little more commitment to the idea that in many cases we're dealing with something no one's ever dealt with before, and everybody should be a little more humble about what they think the right answer is.

JON KELLER: So you're not giving any of the money we're getting from the feds back then.

GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: I think-- you know, honestly, just figuring out what the money we're getting from the feds actually-- how it actually works and how it actually can be used is something we're still chewing our way through.

I will say this. K through 12 education is getting an extraordinary amount of money here, and I would really hope that people put that money to work in ways that are going to help us help those kids who have been most badly affected by COVID and by no time in class and all the rest.

The amount of resources that are going to go to states and municipalities and education communities is very significant, and people should take that and put it to work to help make up for all the time that's been lost, especially for kids in disproportionately affected communities. If we don't do that, it will be a terrible missed opportunity.