Hogan Announces New Mass-Vax Sites; State Threatens UMMS Doses

Former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, right, a new senior adviser to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., left, speaks at a State House news conference on Tuesday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

A mass COVID-19 vaccination site will open in Charles County on Thursday, and the Department of Health has secured sites in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore that will be capable of doing high-volume vaccinations starting later this month, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced on Tuesday. 

The new sites will give Maryland six “mass vax” sites capable of handling thousands of people a day, officials said. 

At the same time, the state is taking its most serious steps to date to reallocate doses — taking vaccines away from providers who have allowed doses to stack up and transferring them to outlets that have a better track record of administering shots, which remain in low supply and high demand.

Hogan made the announcements at a State House news conference where he was joined by the newest member of his coronavirus team, former Centers of Disease Control and Prevention director Robert R. Redfield Jr. 

The governor said the state will begin filling vaccination slots at its Southern Maryland site right away. Regency Furniture Stadium, in Waldorf, is home to the Maryland Blue Crabs, a member of baseball’s Atlantic League.

The Eastern Shore site, at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, will open no later than March 18. Tidal Health will serve as the site’s clinical partner.

By the end of the month a site supported by Meritus Hospital will open at the Premium Outlets in Hagerstown, the governor said.  

In addition, he said the state is in “active discussions” with “several” counties that have expressed an interest in hosting a mass vaccination site. Hogan did not name them. The state’s ability to open more sites will depend on the amount of vaccines Maryland receives from the federal government. 

The state’s established mass-vax sites are also expanding:

  • Six Flags America, in Largo, will begin administering 4,000 shots a day, double the current rate, later this week;
  • M&T Bank Stadium will boost its daily vaccine rate to 2,000 shots per day; and
  • The Baltimore Convention Center site, which is launching a new program to target people in under-served communities, will ramp up to more than 1,000 shots per day

Maryland has been criticized for its vaccine rollout — for its sub-par vaccine-use rate and the low percentage of doses that have gone to people of color. 

There were signs on Tuesday that the state is upping its efforts to get vaccines off the shelves. 

Hogan disclosed for the first time that 25,000 doses were taken from Walgreens and CVS locations in Maryland late last week. The chains receive Pfizer and Moderna vaccines directly from the federal government as part of a national contract to protect residents of long-term-care facilities from the virus. 

The chains “had a large supply, more than they needed… which we’re going to reallocate to others,” the governor said. 

Just before Hogan’s news conference, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) told the Prince George’s County Council that “some of the hospitals aren’t doing as well as they could” — and he singled out one of the state’s largest and most high-profile providers, the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). 

“UMMS is actually one of the hospitals that’s sitting on a larger supply of vaccines, and we’re telling them that we may start moving away from them and going to some of the other hospitals that are doing a better job — or getting it to the counties,” the lieutenant governor said. 

He did not specify how many doses the system is “sitting on.” 

“Doses cannot be allowed to sit on shelves or in freezers, while hundreds of thousands of people are desperately trying to schedule an appointment for a vaccine,” Hogan told reporters.

Asked to respond to Rutherford’s remarks, a spokesman for UMMS, Michael Schwartzberg, wrote in an email, “The 13 hospitals in the University of Maryland System have aggressively administered [the] vaccine Statewide, including at two new mass vaccination sites, which have a combined daily capacity of 3,000 doses and growing. We have also administered 11,000 doses in Princes George’s County at UMMS-managed facilities.”

Schwartzberg conceded that “the unpredictable nature of vaccine allocation in Maryland” impacted the hospital system’s ability to deliver a consistent number of doses week after week.

“A very welcomed and significant influx of new vaccine in the last 10 days has improved our inventory to approximately 10,000 across our 13 hospitals, including approximately 5,000 first doses allocated for our sites at UM Capital Region and UM Charles Regional Medical Center,” he wrote. “With this new supply, we are again rapidly expanding capacity and staffing in our clinics, and currently have over 11,000 patient appointments systemwide and over 3,000 appointments scheduled at UM Capital Region.”

Meanwhile, the governor said the state is trying to determine whether doses in the hands of five federal agencies are being designated as “Maryland” doses — even though the state has never had possession of them — causing a distortion in the data. 

Former CDC director becomes Hogan adviser 

Hogan said Redfield, a Maryland resident, will advise the state on a broad array of public health issues. 

The cofounder of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology who has served in multiple top posts at the university’s School of Medicine, Redfield ran the CDC under the Trump administration from 2018 to 2021.

He will help guide the state’s response to COVID-19 variants, the vaccine campaign and the reopening of the state, Hogan said. 

“From the very beginning of this crisis, I have always emphasized how important it is to follow the science and to get the best advice from the medical experts,” the governor said. 

A noted virologist who helped guide the federal government’s response to the early stages of the AIDS crisis, Redfield — a Trump appointee — is not without his critics. 

Although he is a proponent of mask-wearing and social distancing, he allowed himself — and his agency — to become sidelined by the White House during the first months of the pandemic, detractors have said. 

Rather than appear in the White House briefing room as his predecessors had, Redfield opted for talk radio. Politico referred to him at the “MAGA whisperer.” 

In addition, critics point to the botched development of COVID-19 tests, and they say Redfield was unwilling to stand up to President Trump on the importance of mask-wearing, or to former Vice President Mike Pence, the advocate of an ill-advised plan to allow cruise ships to resume U.S. operations. 

Redfield told reporters in Annapolis on Tuesday that his biggest regret was the “inconsistency of messaging,” a presumed reference to Trump’s feeble embrace of face-coverings.

“I’m proud of what we did,” he said. “We did put science first.” 

Hogan aides said Wednesday that Redfield will work with the governor and the state’s COVID-19 task force as an unpaid adviser, in an arrangement similar to that of Dr. David Marcozzi, the COVID-19 Incident Commander for the University of Maryland Medical System and a top Hogan adviser.

Governor stands by Baltimore comments

Hogan on Tuesday offered his first in-depth response to the controversy that flared last week when he suggested, during a photo-op at M&T Bank Stadium, that Baltimore had received more doses than the city was entitled to. 

“My comment was simply a factual one, saying that the city actually had a higher allocation,” he said. Baltimore is the fourth-largest jurisdiction in the state but receives the most doses, he added. 

He said Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland National Guard will unveil a “very detailed” statewide equity distribution plan on Thursday. “It’s going to be the first one in America. And we’re going to continue to work on that problem.” 

Rutherford will appear on two Baltimore radio stations ― one with a predominately Black audience ― on Wednesday morning. 

But political leaders in the city and in Prince George’s County still see disparities in the distribution of the vaccines. The House delegations from Baltimore City and Prince George’s have scheduled a joint meeting for late Thursday afternoon with local leaders and public health officials.

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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a comment from the University of Maryland Medical System, information about the House delegations’ meeting and details of Redfield’s arrangement with the state.