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COVID-19 in Maryland

Winning Over Vaccine Holdouts Will Require Sustained Effort, Health Secretary Says

A vaccine dose is prepared at a mass vaccination site in St. Mary’s County in 2021. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

In the roughly five months since COVID-19 vaccines became available, two-thirds of Maryland adults have received at least one dose.

More than 5.5 million shots have been administered, including 3,000,584 first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and more than 200,000 of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

But state health officials are slowly transitioning their efforts, focusing less on high-volume vaccination sites and more on luring the holdouts — a group that includes 125,000 seniors.

Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader told state lawmakers on Monday that he expects the distribution of the “next million” shots to be “a grind.”

“It took us six months to get where we are,” he told the state Senate’s Vaccination Work Group. “To get to the next million could take us six months. We’re going to be grinding this. It’s going to be a grind.”

With supplies of the vaccine at high levels and demand beginning to ebb, Schrader said some of the people who have been staffing Maryland’s 13 mass vaccinations sites will begin to transition to mobile and pop-up locations — what he called “the ground game.”

“The demand is softening. There’s no question about it,” the secretary said. “At the right inflection point, we are going to be moving some of those resources” into neighborhood outreach.

Sen. Addie Eckhardt (R-Lower Shore) said some of her constituents have been reluctant to register because the vaccines were approved under an “emergency use authorization” by the FDA.

She said that she has encountered resistance among both health care workers and younger people — “not wanting to be guinea pigs.”

Schrader said the state is working to get nursing homes to boost efforts to get their workers vaccinated. Of Casa de Maryland, with whom the state Department of Health has a partnership, Schrader said “they’ve been enormously helpful to us.”

In addition, he said officials are reviewing whether to beef up their incentive campaigns. He even quizzed lawmakers on Ohio’s decision to enter vaccinated residents in a $5 million lottery.

“We’re looking at any and all opportunities,” he said. “We haven’t landed yet on what those are going to be.”

The state has offered $100 to state employees who get vaccinated, and there is a pizza incentive for the public at large.

“Whatever it takes,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).

During a legislative briefing, lawmakers were told that the state’s vaccination campaign has been most successful in the I-95 corridor, with the exception of inner-Beltway communities in Prince George’s County.

The state’s test-positivity rate — 2.66% — is the lowest its been since officials began collecting data.

President Biden has urged states to get 70% of their people vaccinated by Memorial Day, but Schrader told the Senate panel, “We believe we’ve got to go a lot further than that to get to herd immunity.”

“Our all-of-government effort has been extremely effective,” he added. “And we still have a tremendous amount of work before us. We’re nowhere near done.”

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Winning Over Vaccine Holdouts Will Require Sustained Effort, Health Secretary Says