GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said Monday that a deal could be reached “soon” with a number of other states to create a scannable code that could be used to prove someone has been vaccinated.
“We’ve been working with a bunch of other states, 15 to 20 of them, to try to create a single QR code that can be used for all sorts of things where people may choose to require a vaccine,” Baker said in an interview on Boston Public Radio with hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
The comments on GBH radio reflect a shift on the topic from Baker’s tone six months ago, amid a pandemic landscape that has changed significantly since then.
When Baker was asked in April 2021 whether Massachusetts would create a COVID vaccine passport – a way of proving someone had been vaccinated – Baker said he wasn’t looking at it. Baker brushed aside the idea of “having a conversation about creating a barrier before people have even had an opportunity to be eligible to be vaccinated” at that point, saying, “let’s focus on getting people vaccinated.” Today, vaccines are widely available, yet the pandemic continues to spread, and a growing number of businesses and industries, including state government, are imposing vaccine mandates.
Baker, in the interview, weighed in on several facets of the state’s latest responses to the COVID pandemic, as Massachusetts finds itself in the midst of another COVID-19 surge, and scientists try to find out more about the new Omicron variant, first reported in South Africa.
New Hampshire announced Monday that it had obtained 1 million rapid tests, and said the state government would mail free tests to every family who requests them. Baker said he is unfamiliar with New Hampshire’s program. Massachusetts has been using rapid tests to allow students exposed to COVID-19 to remain in school and to conduct testing at nursing homes, jails, and other congregate care settings. Baker said he would be willing to expand their use – if he had access to the tests. But he criticized the federal government for being slow to approve them.
“If I had the test capacity, I’d definitely consider distributing them everywhere,” Baker said. “The flip side of that is there’s a market issue here. In most parts of Western Europe, you can buy these for a buck on a street corner. We have not reached the point in this country where we have this kind of supply available.”
Baker said he has raised the lack of availability of affordable at-home tests on calls with the White House. Because the FDA chose to regulate the tests as if they were a medical device, they have to go through a complex approval process. Baker said he was told that there should be 10 to 12 at-home tests coming on the market soon, and the price is expected to drop “dramatically.” Tests now cost roughly $25 to $40 for a package of one or two tests, depending on the brand.
Baker was also asked about the difficulty some people are having scheduling booster shots, with some sites booking appointments one or two weeks out. Baker said there were tons of appointments available a couple of weeks ago, but there has since been a surge of interest in getting the shots. Massachusetts is doing around 55,000 shots a day, between first and second doses and boosters. “We’re going to continue to see if we can increase capacity,” Baker said. The governor, who is 65, plans to get his booster shot this week.
Baker noted that the state’s vaccine appointment finder website does have appointments available, though he acknowledged, “They may not be in the place someone wants to go to get one, or it may be one to two weeks out before they can get one.”
On the question reporters have been persistently posing to him in recent weeks, Baker said he is “getting pretty close” to deciding whether he will run for reelection in 2022, and his answer is coming “soon.” Asked whether he would consider running as an independent, after recent polling suggested he might face difficulty in a Republican primary against former state representative Geoff Diehl but would do well as an independent in a general election, Baker said he wasn’t interested. “I’ve been a Republican for almost all my adult life, and I believe in my brand of Republicanism,” he said.
Speaking later in the interview about a Boston Globe story about Baby Boomers refusing to retire, Baker gave some insight into his own mentality. “I’ve always said I’m one of these people, I want to be purposeful and productive as long as I can be purposeful and productive,” Baker said. “I don’t have any hobbies. I read books. I don’t golf, don’t boat, don’t fish, don’t do any of that stuff. My wife would lose her mind if I didn’t have something useful to do. I have a feeling I’m going to hopefully be working for a while.”