Gov. Baker Deflects Talk of Vaccine Passports

Gov. Baker Deflects Talk of Vaccine Passports

With over 1.5 million people in Massachusetts fully vaccinated, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that his administration has no plans to follow the lead of states like New York and implement a vaccine pass system to expedite the reopening of large sports and entertainment venues or to allow for larger conferences and social gatherings.

Baker repeatedly said “no” when asked about planning for vaccine credentials, insisting his focus was on getting millions more Bay State residents vaccinated first. He said there would be “plenty of time to talk about some of this other stuff.”

“I want to vaccinate people. Let’s get people vaccinated,” Baker said. “I think having a conversation about creating a barrier before people have even had an opportunity to be eligible to be vaccinated, let’s focus on getting people vaccinated.”

The governor’s comments came a little over a week after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Excelsior Pass program, a voluntary digital vaccination verification system that works with smartphones and can be used by participating residents and venues.

Madison Square Garden and the Times Union Center in Albany have already signed on to use Excelsior, which was developed with IBM, and the program is expanding to smaller theaters, venues and event spaces.

Sen. Barry Finegold and Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, the co-chairs of the Legislature’s new Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet, and Cybersecurity, wrote to Baker and the White House on Tuesday urging them to work together to develop a framework for “vaccine passes,” even as the Biden administration made clear it would not support a single federally-maintained vaccination verification system. 

With variants spreading across Massachusetts and cases rising among younger people, some public health experts are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to move up vaccine eligibility.

“Vaccines will not completely eradicate COVID-19 for the time being, but vaccine passes will allow us to live with the virus without having to impose costly lockdowns,” Finegold and Campbell wrote. “People will feel more comfortable getting on airplanes or going to sports arenas if they know others there have been vaccinated as well.”

As part of his effort to get more people vaccinated, Baker announced Wednesday that the state’s COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration system will expand this week to include appointments at regional clinics in Northampton, Amherst and Marshfield. 

The regional collaboratives being added to the system offer vaccines at the Northampton Senior Center, the Bangs Community Center in Amherst and the Marshfield Fairgrounds.

Baker said that since the pre-registration system designed by Google went live on March 12 more than 1.5 million residents have signed up to get in line for a shot when they become eligible. Of that group, more than 800,000 people have been contacted through the system with the chance to schedule an appointment at one of the seven mass vaccination sites that is closest to their home.

By next week, anyone who comes off the wait list will be given the chance to select a vaccination location before being prompted by the system to select from available appointments. The governor did not say anything about progress being made to add a function that would allow those who already preregistered to update their profile to reflect the new list of at-risk health conditions.

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