CDC Awards Maryland $54.6 Million to Boost Vaccine Distribution, Equity

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

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced roughly $54.6 million to ramp up vaccine efforts in Maryland Tuesday as the state looks to expand eligibility.

    The CDC awarded Maryland $54,627,875 to expand vaccination programs statewide, according to a news release. State officials are required to send 75% to “programs and initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities,” the news release said.

    The state will also need to use 60% of the money to support local health departments, community-based organizations and community health centers, according to the CDC. That means state officials will have to overlap some of the funding to ensure it helps both minority communities and local health departments.

    That could mean training community members to go door-to-door promoting vaccines, or hiring bilingual health workers.

    “We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in the release. “Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake.”

    The CDC’s focus on vaccine equity comes after repeated warnings that people of color and low-income residents have been disproportionately impacted by both the pandemic and the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

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

    Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s (R) Vaccine Equity Task Force announced last month that it would give community organizations that want to host vaccination clinics the opportunity to apply for doses and support from the state. The group is currently supporting vaccination clinics in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, as well as in rural parts of the state.

    The $54 million awards is part of $3 billion in CDC funding to improve vaccine distribution, access, and administration efforts across the country. That funding comes from the recently passed American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

    On Monday, Hogan announced he was expanding vaccine eligibility across the state, meaning Marylanders age 16 and over will be eligible to sign-up for a shot at the state’s mass-vaccination sites starting Tuesday. People age 16 and older will be eligible to schedule appointments through all providers starting on April 12.

    “We are literally in a race between the vaccines and these new highly transmissible variants that are driving an increase in new infections and hospitalizations, particularly among younger people in the state across the country,” Hogan said at a Monday press conference. “Getting more people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can is our absolute best defense against these variants, and it’s the best way to win this long war against this deadly virus.”

    Michael Powell, a legislative analyst who tracks the pandemic, told the state Senate’s Vaccine Work Group on Monday that a recent rise in new COVID-19 cases is centered in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Harford County.

    Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader told the panel that ramping up vaccine eligibility and distribution is key to curbing the rise in cases.

    “The data tells us that we’ve got to get young people vaccinated faster, so that we can break the back of this pandemic,” Schrader said.

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    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.