Federal Government Slow to Get Second Vaccine Doses to Maryland, Health Official Says

A bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Prince George's County Government photo.

The federal government is behind on getting second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to providers in Maryland, Acting Secretary of Health Dennis R. Schrader told lawmakers during a Monday meeting.

Schrader said during a Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup meeting that he thinks the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services struggled to “reconcile” allotments of the second vaccine dose during the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations.

“We’ve been on the phone with them all weekend,” Schrader said. “They haven’t been able to put their finger on what the issue is.”

His comments came after Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard counties) said he’s heard that “multiple hospitals and health systems” were having trouble getting second doses for health care workers.

“There are second doses that were supposed to be delivered last week, but are still missing and have not materialized,” Lam said. “Now there are second doses for health care workers this week that are less than half of what hospitals are expecting.”

Acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader

But despite Schrader’s claim that the federal government is the one responsible for the second dose shortage, Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Hall said the state is still getting its share of the vaccine. He said the department is working with state officials to clear up any confusion.

“No allocations provided to states have changed or lowered,” Hall said. “All first and second doses allocated to states are being made available for them to order at the appropriate interval, in accordance with the published schedule and cadence. Accordingly, doses are being delivered at the quantities and locations directed by the states.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many providers were affected by the apparent shortage of second COVID-19 vaccine doses. Schrader added that the federal government has been “helpful,” and that he hopes the issue will be resolved over the next few days. He said there’s a large window for vaccine recipients to get the second dose.

Schrader added that the federal government is slated to give Maryland a small bump in its weekly allocation of first-dose COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks, although demand is expected to remain well above supply.

State officials have been told to expect 88,000 first doses of the two-part vaccines in the coming weeks, Schrader said. He previously told lawmakers the state was getting 72,000 a week on average.

But despite the thousands of additional doses the state is getting, it won’t be enough to quickly vaccinate all eligible Marylanders: Schrader estimated the state has gotten roughly 691,700 first doses of the vaccine so far ― and more than two million Marylanders are currently eligible. Not all of those doses received have been administered yet.

And while the state has improved its vaccination figures since last week, an analysis from Michael Powell of the Department of Legislative Services showed that Maryland lags behind other states in terms of the proportion of its population that has been vaccinated, and the number of vaccines it has administered compared to how many it has received.

Schrader again told lawmakers the state is taking a decentralized approach to vaccination and “building infrastructure” to prepare for a larger vaccination program later this spring.

Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) pressed Schrader on how Marylanders can sign up for the vaccine, and whether those eligible for the vaccine should sign up wherever possible instead of focusing on just one provider.

The state’s decentralized approach means different providers, local health departments, hospitals and pharmacies have their own sign-up lists to get the vaccine. Schrader said he would “have to think about” Rosapepe’s question, and expected to have an answer by next week’s meeting.

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