There's no shortage of questions about how the Baker administration has approached its effort to vaccinate more than 4 million people. Legislators have critiqued everything from the governor's decision to allow healthy young people to get vaccinated alongside at-risk seniors to the delay in having a call center set up for people unable to book appointments online.
And now both Democrats and Republicans want answers as to why the state's appointment website crashed Thursday, despite the predictable surge in traffic as people aged 65 and older were allowed to try to sign up for the first time.
Next week a legislative committee is seeking to get answers to those questions straight from the top, inviting Gov. Charlie Baker to testify before the panel at the first oversight hearing of the new Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness, according to the Senate chair.
Sen. Jo Comerford, who is co-chairing the committee with Rep. William Driscoll, said Thursday that she doesn't know if Baker will accept the invitation to testify next Thursday.
"I hope he does," Comerford said. "We'd like to hear from him."
The committee has also invited Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, Assistant Public Health Commissioner Jana Ferguson and Assistant Public Health Commissioner and Director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences Kevin Cranston.
In addition, three other committees — Health Care Financing, Public Health, and Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion — have been asked to assemble expert panels to present to the oversight committee.
"What has caused such a turbulent vaccine rollout? The answer has been elusive, too elusive frankly," Comerford said.
"If the Legislature felt we were getting the answers that our constituents were demanding and we were demanding and if we were seeing a righting of the ship, perhaps we wouldn't have needed to form this committee," she continued.
A spokeswoman for Baker wouldn't say whether Baker planned to testify, pointing back to comments made by the governor during a Wednesday press conference when he was asked about the oversight hearing.
"We talk all the time to the Legislature. I talked to the speaker and the Senate president over the weekend. Marylou does calls at least once a week with both the House and the Senate. We provide them with a lot of information and material, and obviously, we'll look forward to talking to them about this," Baker said then.
Sudders was also working the phones Thursday talking to lawmakers who have been hearing the vaccine rollout complaints from frustrated constituents.
"I am currently on a call with Secretary Sudders and the rest of the legislature trying to find answers as to what's happening with the website. It's unacceptable," Rep. Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox tweeted on Thursday.
Baker has defended certain decisions that he says led to a slower vaccine rollout than in some other states, including the prioritization of residents and staff at long-term nursing and congregate care facilities, but he has also admitted to being "late" with things like the call center. Even after the call center was set up, it took multiple days and pressure from lawmakers before evening and weekend hours were added.
"My hair's on fire about the whole thing. I can't even begin to tell you how pissed off I am," Baker said Thursday on the radio about the crash of the appointment website.
The new Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness was established this month by Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, signaling a desire on the part of top Democrats to play a more active role in the state's pandemic response, which has largely been run by Baker using a steady wave of executive orders.
Comerford, of Northampton, comes from a background in social work, while Driscoll's area of expertise is disaster response and emergency preparedness. The senator described her and Driscoll's backgrounds as "a good marriage" for the committee.