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Two community leaders demand Baker answer questions about vaccine supply

Governor Charlie Baker, during a tour  of the mass vaccination site at the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers last week.
Governor Charlie Baker, during a tour of the mass vaccination site at the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers last week.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Leaders in two local communities demanded on Monday that the Baker administration provide more details about the distribution of vaccine supplies after the state failed to provide new doses to officials there this week.

In Methuen and Burlington, officials said plans to provide vaccinations to residents have been stymied by the state Department of Public Health, which has redirected doses to mass vaccination centers.

Edward Weiner, the chairman of Burlington’s Board of Health, said in a phone interview Monday afternoon that the town has been forced to cancel two local clinics to vaccinate residents after going two weeks without fresh deliveries of doses.

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“All we need is for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to acknowledge what we . . . are trying to do,” Weiner said, referring to Burlington’s plans to vaccinate eligible residents. “We have the capacity to do it better than anybody else.”

State Senator Diana DiZoglio said Methuen received no doses for vaccinating its residents this week, even though the city established its own vaccination center at the request of the Baker administration.

“In the city of Methuen, we have seen the administration effectively strand the city’s ability to administer vaccine,” DiZoglio said in a separate interview. “The governor continues to act unilaterally in his actions regarding the rollout.”

The criticism came as the state Department of Public Health reported Monday the number of coronavirus vaccinations administered in Massachusetts rose by 25,056, and reached a total of 1,143,430.

The state also reported 1,480 new confirmed coronavirus cases, and 32 new confirmed coronavirus deaths. The latest figures brought the total number of infections to more than 530,000. The death toll reached 15,208.

Last week, the Baker administration announced that it would redirect vaccine supplies from hospitals to the mass vaccination centers. Hospital leaders have opposed the move and argued that their efforts allowed them to connect with people who may not be served by the large sites, such as Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park.

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Local elected leaders echoed those concerns about diverting resources away from vaccination efforts overseen by cities and towns.

On Friday, state Representative Ken Gordon told Governor Charlie Baker in a letter that directing vaccine away from hospitals and communities is a mistake.

“We should prioritize the most vulnerable populations and remove barriers to getting vaccination,” Gordon wrote in the letter, which he posted to Twitter. “Our local health departments and hospitals are trusted resources in our communities.”

That same day, most of the state’s congressional delegation signed onto a letter imploring Baker to develop and implement a centralized system for all residents to preregister for vaccinations, according to the document posted on boston.com Sunday night.

Of the 11-member delegation, only US Representative Richard Neal did not sign the letter.

Baker, speaking to reporters Saturday at the mass vaccination site at Springfield’s Eastfield Mall, attributed the state’s difficulties in ramping up vaccinations to limited supplies from the federal government.

“The frustration that people have with the fact that they have capacity to distribute [vaccine], but don’t have [enough] vaccine, is something happening here in the Commonwealth and across the country,” Baker said Saturday. “And it is very much my hope that, at some point, we really do have more supply than we have capacity. That’s not now.”

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On Sunday night Kate Reilly, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center, said in a statement that the state is working to vaccinate residents as quickly and efficiently as possible. But supplies of vaccine from the federal government to Massachusetts remained constrained at approximately 100,000 first doses per week.

”Vaccines are being distributed to multiple providers to get more residents vaccinated,” she said.

On Monday, DiZoglio called on Baker to improve vaccine availability and accessibility in Methuen as soon as possible.

In a letter she posted to Twitter, DiZoglio said that people who are currently eligible for doses — many of whom are 75 and older — should be able to turn to their local municipal provider for vaccinations.

“After a year in which Methuen residents — and residents across the Merrimack Valley — faced one challenge after another, the last thing our community needs right now are additional headaches,” DiZoglio said. “The city desperately needs more doses so it can vaccinate the many residents who have waited so patiently to become eligible, only to discover the state has not done its job in getting vaccines to the community.”

In Burlington, Weiner said the town has been requesting 800 doses a week, he said. But it did not received any doses for last week, and had not received any for the coming week. The last allocation from the state was for only 100 doses in the first week of February, he said.

The town has formed a 250-member volunteer medical reserve corps, including about 60 people trained to administer vaccinations, he said, and has the high school building available as a vaccination site. But it is unable to move forward without supplies.

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After not receiving any response from Baker, Weiner said he reached out directly to Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito Monday in an e-mail.

In the message, which he shared with the Globe, Weiner criticized Baker’s decisions in handling the vaccination rollout, and said local health boards are being ignored.

“THIS IS EGREGIOUS!” Weiner told Polito. “Time for you to step up and support your cities and towns [and] local boards of health.”

In the interview, Weiner said local options for vaccinations will make it easier for people 75 and older to get vaccinated and avoid the need for younger people to accompany them to larger state sites.

Last week, Baker announced a companion plan that allowed younger people to get vaccinated if they accompanied an eligible person to an appointment.

“We will vaccinate people who need it, not the healthy people who are driving a senior 30 or 40 miles [to a mass vaccination center],” Weiner said. “We’ll do it in their own backyard.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.