Delegates Seek to Question Top Health Official Over Vaccine Distribution

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

    Maryland delegates want to grill acting Secretary of Health Dennis R. Schrader over vaccine distribution at an upcoming meeting, according to a Thursday letter.

    Schrader hasn’t confirmed he’ll be at next Tuesday’s House Health and Government Operations Committee meeting, but in their letter, Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), committee Chair Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard) and Vice Chair Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) laid out a slew of questions on how the acting health secretary is handling vaccine distribution.

    The lawmakers asked Schrader why the COVID-19 vaccine is “not being provided to counties in an equitable fashion, based on population.” They also pressed the health secretary on why there is no uniform, statewide way to sign up for the vaccine, and why the state plans to rely largely on pharmacies to distribute the doses.

    “With each passing day, Marylanders are becoming more disillusioned with the state’s vaccination efforts and more confused as the administration layers new idea on top of new idea to fix the problem,” the lawmakers wrote.

    Montgomery County leaders criticized the state’s vaccination planning at a Monday press conference. At that briefing, Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D) and Vice President Gabriel Albornoz (D) said their county has been getting a low and inconsistent number of vaccines in state allocations.

    Acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader

    Schrader appeared before the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup on Monday and laid out the state’s plan for a decentralized vaccine distribution using pharmacies at stores such as Walmart and Giant.

    After the workgroup meeting, Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) told Maryland Matters that Schrader offered “contradictory” information on the state’s approach to vaccines. Schrader told senators that state officials planned on using designated pharmacies to distribute vaccines, but also said that the state was building infrastructure to help with high vaccine demand.

    Senators also questioned why the state was expanding eligibility for the vaccine despite a limited supply. Although Schrader said the state is getting only about 72,000 vaccine doses from the federal government on an average week, this week the state expanded eligibility to include adults aged 65 and older, Postal Service employees and manufacturing and agricultural workers.

    Schrader, recently nominated to permanently lead the Maryland Department of Health, awaits confirmation by the state Senate.

    Delegates also plan to ask Schrader about that expansion if he attends next week’s meeting.

    Hogan announced Tuesday that the state is planning to open six mass vaccination sites, and pledged to get the vaccine to minority and low-income neighborhoods.

    “We have 100,000 doses. We have 2 million people that want to make an appointment,” Hogan said Tuesday. “I know this is really frustrating.”

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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.