Amid a stubborn rise in COVID-19 infections, the Hogan administration moved on Monday to expand vaccine eligibility at the state’s mass vaccination sites.
The decision means that all Marylanders age 16 and over will be eligible to sign-up for a shot at the state’s mass-vaccination sites effective on Tuesday.
People age 16 and older will be eligible to schedule appointments through all providers starting on April 12.
The actions, announced by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a State House news conference, advance the registration process by two weeks.
“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. “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.”
The decision to move the registration timeline forward reflects the significant increase in supply that the state expects to receive — and it underscores what officials said is an urgent need to address a rise in infections that is being driven by people under 40.
Michael Powell, a legislative analyst who tracks the pandemic, told the state Senate’s Vaccine Work Group on Monday that the rise in new cases is centered in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Harford County.
“The data tells us that we’ve got to get young people vaccinated faster, so that we can break the back of this pandemic,” Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader told the panel.
He said older adults “understand their risks and they’re being more careful,” while younger adults “feel like they’re indestructible often-times.”
“It’s clear that younger people are more mobile,” Schrader added. “They’re out and about.”
The newly confirmed health secretary said his agency is working with Maryland universities to get students vaccinated before they return home to their families at semester’s end.
Hogan also announced an expansion of the state’s no-appointment option.
Maryland’s first walk-up line opened Friday at the high-volume site located at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury. Approximately 500 people got a shot on the first day, officials said.
On Tuesday, a line at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets site will open for people who lack an appointment. The state expects to add others throughout the month.
Hogan said the state’s first experiment with the walk-up lines in Salisbury went smoothly.
“We’re expecting the same thing to happen in Hagerstown and all our other sites moving forward,” he said. “It’s still best if you register: they have all your information, you know there’s a vaccine for you, it’s very smooth.”
Those walking up to a site risk being turned away if vaccine supplies run out, Hogan said. Asked if he was worried about a crush of vaccine-seekers at the walk-up sites, Hogan said: “We’re hoping for that, actually.”
He said an initial surge in vaccine interest is expected to level off as more people are vaccinated and the state will adjust after “this opening up of the floodgates.”
This week the state expects to receive 372,000 doses from the federal government. That number does not include the approximately 100,000 additional doses that go directly to private pharmacies.
The supply is expected to increase to 457,000 doses next week — and by the beginning of May, the state is projected to receive 535,000 or more doses per week through the remainder of the summer.
The state is adding seven additional mass vaccination sites this month. Three open this week at the Greenbelt Metro Station, Montgomery College in Germantown, and the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. Two sites are scheduled to open the week of April 12 at Frederick Community College and the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen is expected to open a vaccination clinic a week later, and the state is working to open The Mall in Columbia site the same week as well.
Schrader told lawmakers that plans are being formulated for a potential need to administer booster shots as protection from the virus begins to “decay” over time.
Hogan responds to critical audit
Asked about an audit released Friday critical of the Hogan administration’s purchase of 500,000 test kits from a South Korean firm at a cost of $11.9 million, the governor dismissed the report.
Hogan called the audit “complete nonsense” and said the purchase of the kits “was probably one of the biggest accomplishments throughout this pandemic.”
The test kits, which were purchased as an emergency procurement without a formal contract, required complete replacement after a first batch failed to meet FDA requirements. Auditors were unable to conclude who within government was ultimately responsible for making the purchase.
Hogan said Monday that all of the purchased test kits were used and the Board of Public Works ultimately approved the purchase after the fact.
“The report was partisan nonsense,” Hogan said. “…I wouldn’t change a single thing. I don’t really care what those legislators have to say.”
By Bruce DePuyt and Danielle E. Gaines