BOSTON (SHNS) – Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Tim Walz, got his COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year alongside his predecessor, Republican Tim Pawlenty.
For those looking for a reason to get the shot, Walz told President Joe Biden that he hoped that moment offered one.
“Go get vaccinated so you’re alive to vote against me in the next election. I don’t care,” he said Tuesday. “I just want to get it done.”
In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said, officials brought vaccines into schools and businesses. In Maine, where reaching rural communities presents a challenge, Gov. Janet Mills said residents who get their first shot between now and Memorial Day can receive vouchers for gift cards to L.L. Bean, Portland Sea Dogs tickets or free fishing or hunting licenses.
“We’re calling this Your Shot to Get Outdoors,” said Mills, a Democrat. “It’s corny, I know, but we know that people in Maine have found refuge and relief in Mother Nature throughout the pandemic.”
A group of six governors, including Gov. Charlie Baker, joined Biden via livestream to tout efforts to reach populations that are not yet vaccinated and emphasize the need for states to be flexible as they pivot from serving, as Utah Gov. Spencer Cox put it, the “vaccine ecstatic” who got their shots early to the “vaccine busy” and “vaccine curious.”
Cox, a Republican, said that Utah designed a public information campaign to help people understand “that getting the vaccine is the way to get back to the things that we all love, that we all want to do — weddings and family reunions, Utah Jazz games, the best team in the league right now, churches, hugging grandparents, quinceañeras.”
He asked Biden for “some help from the White House and others” on “modeling what a fully vaccinated person can do” to help motivate people.
Biden said to expect “a more aggressive effort on our part to lay out that once vaccinated, it’s not only that you can hug your grandchildren, you can do a lot more.”
Whether corny or not, Maine’s outdoors-driven incentive campaign struck a chord with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“Every time somebody has a good idea — I heard about hunting and fishing licenses, I’m on it,” the Democrat said. “So every time somebody has a good idea, we’re deploying it.”
Baker, who called in from Polar Park ahead of the inaugural Worcester Red Sox home game, said governors have tried to base their vaccine strategies “on what we’re hearing from people on the ground, and recognizing and understanding that the same approach isn’t going to work in every place.”
Last week, Baker administration officials announced plans to wind down their empashis on mass vaccination sites, shifting to a more local approach that involves mobile and pop-up clinics.
Baker on Tuesday described the program here as a “mixed model,” with the large-scale sites, regional collaboratives, “tremendous participation” from the health care community, and community health centers as “a big part of the show.”
“It’s very interesting when you have the muscle of a big hospital system that can be a big supporter of a community health center that’s running a program in conjunction with them in a church or community center or senior center,” he said. “You’ve basically got all the trusted voices in that particular neighborhood delivering the same message, which is this is a good idea and this is something you should be willing to do.”
After Baker wrapped up his remarks, Biden told him, “You’re doing a hell of a job.”
The president’s goal is to get at least one shot to 70 percent of Americans by July 4th. About 74 percent of Massachusetts adults have received their first dose, Baker said, putting the Bay State at number two in the country on that metric, behind Vermont.
More than 3 million people in Massachusetts were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, having received either both Pfizer or Moderna doses or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the latest Department of Public Health data.
DPH data from May 4 show that about 55 percent of white Massachusetts residents, 33 percent of Hispanic residents, 37 percent of Black residents and 53 percent of Asian residents have received at least a first dose. About 40 percent of white residents, 20 percent of Hispanic residents, 26 percent of Black residents and 29 percent of Asian residents are fully vaccinated.
Baker described vaccination rates for the state’s Black, Hispanic and Asian communities as “right up there with our white community as well.”
“We still have some work to do there, but we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.
The Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition said that racial disparities have perisisted since vaccination first began in Massachusetts, though communities of color were hard hit by the pandemic. In a statement, the coalition’s co-chairs — Carlene Pavlos of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, Eva Millona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and Atyia Martin of the Resilient 21 Coalition — pointed to the administration’s ongoing transition away from mass vaccination sites.
“If reaching the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and ensuring equitable access to the vaccine was truly a top priority for the Baker administration, it would have invested in these community-based sites proven to reduce inequities from the outset of the program,” they said.
During the virtual meeting, Biden announced that Lyft and Uber will offer free rides to and from vaccine sites from May 24 through July 4 and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide additional support for states’ on-the-ground vaccine promotion efforts.
“I guess I would say that I think the transportation issue is a big deal and the decision to include folks like Lyft and Uber in this can make a big difference,” Baker said.