State House News – The chairs of a legislative oversight committee came out of a lengthy hearing convinced that they need to “dig deeper” into why the Baker administration felt local public-health experts and the emergency plans they’ve fine-tuned for decades were not viable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton and Rep. Bill Driscoll of Milton, who are leading the Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management’s probe into the vaccine rollout, said in a joint statement Wednesday that the hours of testimony presented during the second oversight hearing “exposed two completely different sets of beliefs about our public health system” and how well-equipped it is to handle crises.

Gov. Charlie Baker and his top deputies defended their decision not to use local disaster plans and to emphasize the role of mass vaccination sites, telling the committee that the pandemic presented unique challenges that could not be met with the preparations already in place.

Comerford and Driscoll, both Democrats, pushed back on that characterization in their response on Wednesday.

“If private companies that have only recently entered into the world of emergency preparedness and vaccine coordination, can be trusted to find a pathway to scale COVID-19 vaccination efforts, then certainly the local public-health teams that have spent decades training and developing plans specifically on pandemic response can be as well,” they said.

“The complexities and barriers to entry to effectively administer doses of the vaccine are not insurmountable for local and regional public health teams and efforts to address any gaps identified during the hearing would serve only to build lasting capacity and capability within local and regional infrastructure.”

The chairs flagged several “unanswered questions” they will continue to pursue, including the pace of economic reopening amid constraints in vaccine supply. They did not specifically announce another hearing, but said the committee “will certainly follow up on these vital concerns.” – Chris Lisinski/SHNS

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