State Ramps Up Vaccine Equity Plan; Hogan and Scott Spar Over Doses, Funding

Maryland's fourth mass vaccination site launched in Waldorf on Thursday, with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Maryland also announced plans to ramp up equity efforts in vaccine distribution on Thursday. FEMA photo via Twitter.

After weeks of pressure to boost the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine into communities hit hardest by the virus, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Thursday announced new efforts to reach minority and low-income residents.

The campaign will give community organizations that want to host vaccination clinics the opportunity to apply for doses and support.

One such clinic, Hogan said, will open on March 16 at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, a site requested by Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D).

The site will be supported by the University of Maryland Capital Region Health. When fully operational, it will administer 900 doses a day, officials said.

Maryland National Guard Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead said other locations will be evaluated as their requests come in. The state, which will serve as a “clearinghouse,” will look at a range of statistics in the surrounding community — including vaccine disparities, household density, family incomes, vehicle access, and the percentage of seniors and single parents — in determining which applications to approve.

Birckhead leads the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force, which Hogan formed in late January. She said the task force will assist local organizations in filling out their paperwork.

“It’s a top-down and a bottom-up approach,” Hogan told reporters at a State House news conference. “We’re trying to do everything we possibly can.”

Hogan said 60.4% of Maryland’s vaccines have gone to white residents; the state’s population is 58.5% white.

“We’re not where we need to be with the Black community or the Hispanic community,” he said. “We’re continuing to take every effort to ramp that up.”

Although the state’s three mass vaccination sites are located in majority-Black communities, residents of surrounding counties have swooped in to obtain the majority of the shots. A fourth high-volume site, in Waldorf, had a “soft launch” on Thursday, administering 500 vaccine doses. Charles County also has a majority-Black population.

In Prince George’s, only 10% of the first 32,000 doses administered at Six Flags America went to county residents. Alsobrooks, who has been reluctant to criticize the state, called that “unfair” and “outrageous.”

Like all states, Maryland has seen demand for the vaccine greatly outstrip supply.

But critics — including an array of Democratic local officials, state lawmakers, members of Congress and advocates for the disadvantaged — have accused the state of bungling its vaccine rollout.

They say the complicated system, with its layers of distribution points, favors people with flexible schedules, computer and internet access, and technological savvy.

The task force also announced Thursday that it is working to bring mobile vaccination clinics to Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. State-owned vaccination trailers will make stops throughout the Eastern Shore.

Maryland will coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to utilize larger mobile clinics on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland.

“We have listened and we will assist,” Birckhead said. “We still have a way to go.”

Raskin, Trone seek mass-vaccination site in Montgomery

In a Wednesday letter to Hogan, the Montgomery County Council said the state’s distribution campaign has mirrored the epidemic itself, with people of color and low-wage residents being impacted disproportionately.

“Black residents are dying at higher rates and we’re not getting vaccinated,” said Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando (D) in a statement. “Our Latino population has also been disproportionately affected by this disease.”

“We need a statewide approach that factors in race and ethnicity. We want everyone to have access and it needs to be done in a targeted way,” he added.

Two-thirds of Montgomery’s doses have gone to white residents, who make up 43% of the population, lawmakers wrote. Black people represent 19% of the population but have received only 8% of the doses, while 9% of the county’s Latinx residents, who represent 20% of the population, have been vaccinated.

Reps. Jamie Raskin (D) and David J. Trone (D) on Thursday urged the governor to establish a mass-vaccination site in the county. In a letter, the lawmakers noted that Montgomery is the state’s largest county and has both a majority-minority population and “a significant health care workforce and a substantial elderly population over the age of 75.”

Raskin and Trone said that — although the mass-vax sites in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties are open to Montgomery County residents — “this offer seems like cold comfort when so many logistical hurdles face lower-income, working-class, immigrant, and senior residents in Montgomery who are unable to arrange transportation or get time off from work to travel to distant sites.”

Hogan, Scott spar over doses, funding

Hogan praised the Prince George’s County Health Department, which he said had improved its vaccination program following a slow start.

But he ratcheted-up a war of words with Baltimore officials.

Hogan told reporters that the city had declined to accept $8.8 million in federal funds to support its vaccination efforts, and that Baltimore had requested that doses in its control be transferred to hospitals and retail pharmacies.

“I don’t want to be criticizing the mayor in any way,” the governor said. “But he kept saying that they weren’t getting enough [doses]. And the [city] health department kept saying ‘We have way too much. Please send them somewhere else.’”

Hogan suggested that Scott, who took office in December, “talk to his health department.”

A short time later, Scott went before cameras at City Hall to refute Hogan’s charges, which he called “categorically untrue.”

The mayor said doses have been redeployed to Baltimore hospitals and pharmacies as part of an “equitable and rapid” strategy to reach residents across the city. The state has approved the city’s requests, Scott added.

He also denied turning down vaccination funding, saying the city prefers to deal directly with FEMA, from whom it can seek 100% reimbursement.

“The governor is aware that this is false but continues to repeat it,” Scott alleged. “While the governor continues to go back and forth about petty politics, people are dying from the virus.”

Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said the use of hospitals and pharmacies helps residents who aren’t able to negotiate an online sign-up system which she likened to “a Hunger Games-style competition.”

“It allows us to ensure our doses are going to city residents who are eligible but that have been left behind by the state’s rollout to date,” she said.

The Hogan administration’s claims about the city first surfaced on Wednesday.

Scott called them a “Jedi mind trick” and a “distraction.”

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the opening date of the state’s Waldorf vaccination site, which had a “soft launch” on Thursday.