New Mass Vaccination Sites Announced As Local Officials Protest Eligibility Changes

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced six new mass vaccination sites that will open in the state in April. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Maryland will open six new high-volume COVID-19 vaccination sites in April, greatly expanding the state’s ability to get doses into arms when the supply increases, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced on Tuesday.

The list of new locations includes the Germantown campus of Montgomery College. County officials announced that site last week, though Hogan subsequently called their disclosure “a bit premature.”

The list also includes a Baltimore County-run vaccination program, at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium, that opened in December.

All six new sites will be operated as county-state partnerships.

With the state currently in Phase 2A of its vaccination program, Hogan announced an expansion of Phase 2B to include people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities experience significant barriers to accessing health services,” he told reporters at a State House news conference. State agencies “are working together to try to close that gap and make sure that no one is left behind.”

People in Phase 2B can pre-register, effectively immediately, on the state’s website, covidvax.maryland.gov, or by calling 1-855-634-6829. That includes all Marylanders age 60 and over, those 16 and over who have a medical condition, and now those 16 and older who have a disability.

In addition to the State Fairgrounds and Germantown locations, the state also will open mass-vaccination sites in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard and Harford counties. Precise locations for those four have not been determined, the governor said.

In a statement that thanked the governor for including his county, Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman Jr. (D) said his staff began preparations to use Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as a high-volume site in November.

The state already has five high-volume vaccination locations — in Largo, Salisbury, Waldorf and two in Baltimore. A sixth will open in Hagerstown on Thursday.

Big increase in supply is coming

The state will move to Phase 2B on March 30 and to Phase 2C on April 13. By April 27, all residents will be eligible for a shot.

Hogan said the timing of the new sites is “very closely aligned” with White House guidance on when states can expect a significant increase in supply.

“We don’t want to open up a mass-vax site with no vaccines. The supply is coming,” though exact numbers are not yet available, the governor said.

The dynamics of the vaccine program will shift markedly “at some point soon,” he told reporters.

Instead of strong demand and weak supply, “we’re going to be out searching for people.”

Hogan quoted polling data that indicates that roughly 60% of the population is eager to get a shot, about 20% are similar to swing voters — “they could be persuaded, but they’re not really sure if they want it or not” — and 20% do not want the vaccine.

“We want to convince all those persuadables,” he said. “The whole 60% that want one is going to have one in short order.”

State, local leaders slam Schrader order on eligibility

An order issued by acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader on Monday triggered howls of protest from local elected leaders, health officials and a state lawmaker who sits on the Senate’s Vaccine Work Group.

Under the order, counties would be barred from having vaccine eligibility policies that don’t align with the state’s.

“All persons included in the Current Phase… of the State Vaccine Prioritization Policy shall be eligible to receive COVID-19 Vaccines,” the order states. “Political subdivisions shall not make orders or rules to the contrary.”

During a lengthy conversation with Montgomery County’s top health officials, several members of the County Council said the order will hurt efforts to reach communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

“It’s going to make us work even harder to try to target the doses we do have to populations that are dying younger and getting sicker, in particularly Black and Brown and Latino populations,” Councilmember Will Jawando (D) said.

“I think it’s disgusting,” he added. “I think it’s playing politics with people’s lives. It’s shameful.”

Schrader’s order was disclosed at the end of a meeting on Monday, with no opportunity for discussion, officials said.

“You wouldn’t run a corporation this way, you wouldn’t run a government agency this way,” Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D). “It’s crazy that we’re running a state this way in the middle of a pandemic.”

Dr. Travis A. Gayles, Montgomery County’s Health Officer, told the Council “there was no rationale provided for the change.”

“It speaks to missed opportunities to actually plan and work together,” said Gayles. “If there are conversations and opportunities to workshop ideas before they are announced, it.. creates more seamless, robust communication strategies.”

Under Maryland law, local health officers are state employees, and public health is a shared function.

Gayles, the vice president of the state association that represents local health officers, said he and his colleagues hope to “have a seat at the table and be an influential adviser to the governor and his staff.”

“More often than not, we do, unfortunately, find out the new directives coming from the governor’s office when the general public does,” he added.

Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles shrugs when asked whether he knows what Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) intended to announce at an upcoming press conference on Tuesday. Screenshot.

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, defended the rollout of new policy.

“Announcements are made when there are announcements to be made. There is no chaos in that approach, only clarity and responsibility,” he said.

“When you tell people things ahead of time under a close hold that they then immediately leak to the press, that information is neither being kept close nor held,” he added.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, the head of Montgomery County’s office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said local officials have grown so accustomed to secrecy from the Hogan administration, “it’s now a surprise when we get any sort of information or intel.”

Some officials shrugged off the order, saying it would not impact their efforts to prioritize the most vulnerable.

In a post on Twitter, Pittman said “we continue to focus on vaccinating our most vulnerable residents first.”

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) said efforts to reach people in hard-hit communities and those without access to transportation will continue.

“The state has committed itself to doing this equitably and we’re committed to doing this equitably,” he said.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), a frequent Hogan critic, said that with “more distribution, more sites, more centralization, I’m feeling at least we may have gotten over the hump. So this is not the thing that jumps out at me.”

But Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), a member of the Senate’s Vaccine Work Group, predicted that the order would “intensify” the “Hunger Games” pursuit of vaccines, to the detriment of his county. Prince George’s has consistently ranked last in vaccinations.

“It seems crazy. We know that the vaccination rates vary greatly between jurisdictions,” he said. “Opening it up to more people from all over the state is just going to put a run on vaccines, keeping them away from Prince Georgians. It seems kind of obvious.”

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