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Oversight panel asks Baker, Sudders to testify next week on COVID-19 vaccine rollout

A new legislative oversight panel is looking into the matter

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders spoke at a State House press conference about the state's COVID-19 vaccination plans this week.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders spoke at a State House press conference about the state's COVID-19 vaccination plans this week.Sam Doran/Pool

A new legislative oversight panel has asked Governor Charlie Baker and Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to come before the group and answer questions about the state’s shaky COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as Massachusetts officials spent another day drawing fire — this time the state’s main vaccine scheduling site repeatedly crashing under heavy traffic.

The committee, which was formed recently with members from both chambers of the Legislature, is slated to hold its first oversight hearing Feb. 25.

State Senator Jo Comerford, a Democrat who cochairs the new panel, said lawmakers invited Baker, Sudders, and other officials from the Department of Public Health.

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“We’d love them to accept,” she said in an interview with the Globe Thursday. “We’d love to engage with them.”

Representatives for Baker and Sudders did not immediately respond to questions about whether they plan to appear. Baker said Wednesday he and other officials have shared information with state lawmakers throughout the vaccine rollout process, but “obviously we look forward to talking to them about this.”

Comerford and other legislative leaders have said the hearing will focus on a shaky start to the vaccine rollout. Baker has faced criticism from local, state, and national leaders who have taken issue with technological disruptions and racial disparities in the early distribution process.

Even as the state improves its national standing in the share of vaccines administered, Baker remains under fire over equity issues and logistics.

That criticism intensified Thursday, when the state’s vaccine website crashed just as one million residents became eligible to schedule appointments.

“My hair’s on fire about the whole thing,” Baker said Thursday afternoon during an interview on GBH radio. “I can’t even begin to tell you how pissed off I am, and people are working really hard to get it fixed.”

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Meanwhile, legislative leaders including House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen E. Spilka have both signaled frustration with Baker over the process so far.

“I am deeply disappointed that today so many Massachusetts residents are feeling frustration and anger on a day when we should be experiencing hope,” Spilka said in a statement Thursday. When the panel convenes, she said, “we expect answers from those responsible for this failure. The Administration must deliver a better experience for our residents, who have already dealt with so much anxiety and disruption.”






Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.