Maryland will open six mass vaccination sites beginning early next month to help boost the state’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced on Tuesday.
The number of big-name supermarket and drug store chains offering the vaccine will also grow in the weeks ahead, Hogan said.
In addition, the governor said the state will make new efforts to get the vaccine into minority and low-income neighborhoods, where vaccination rates have lagged.
Despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and independent tallies showing that Maryland has one of the lowest vaccine use-rates in the nation, Hogan told reporters at a State House news conference that supply — not distribution — remains the biggest challenge.
“We have 100,000 doses. We have 2 million people that want to make an appointment,” Hogan said. “I know this is really frustrating.”
The Maryland Department of Health reported on Tuesday that 396,661 of the 667,275 doses that the state has distributed to hospitals, local health departments, pharmacies, long-term care facilities and others locations, have been used.
A Bloomberg tracker puts the state’s allocation total a bit higher (742,175) and its doses-administered tally a bit lower (372,937). According to Bloomberg, Maryland’s 50.2% use-rate is among the lowest in the nation, ahead of only five states and a smattering of territories.
Hogan said many of the state’s unused doses are being held so that people who have received their first shot can return for the second one. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to deliver maximum protection against COVID-19.
“Those can’t be sped up,” the governor said. “They have to be held until the date that they’re allowed to be given.”
To reach more people, Maryland will open “mass vaccination” sites at the Six Flags amusement park in Prince George’s County and the Baltimore Convention Center no later than Feb. 5.
M&T Bank Stadium, also in Baltimore, will also serve as a mass vaccination site. Locations on the Eastern Shore, in Western Maryland and Southern Maryland will be announced soon, Hogan said.
Maryland’s six new large vaccination sites will operate on an appointment-only basis.
To increase the state’s reach into neighborhoods, Hogan said 22 Giant supermarkets in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and greater Baltimore, three Martin’s locations and 10 Walmarts on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland have all begun offering vaccinations this week.
Sixteen Safeway and Rite-Aid locations will begin doing so next week.
“We are utilizing data and modeling to prioritize under-served areas and places where there is the greatest need,” Hogan said.
The Democrats in Maryland’s congressional delegation — both U.S. senators and seven of eight members of the U.S. House — criticized the state’s track record just before Hogan spoke.
“A robust vaccination strategy is critical to our efforts to defeat COVID-19 in Maryland. But according to the CDC, Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution system ranks as one of the worst-performing statewide efforts in the country,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Early data also suggests that Maryland has immunized communities of color at significantly lower rates. These issues must be addressed by the State at once.”
Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), a physician, did not sign the letter.
Federal government sending more doses to states
Amid frustrations at the slow pace of the national COVID-19 vaccination effort, President Biden said Tuesday that his administration is boosting the number of doses sent to states each week and will be giving state officials more certainty on the number of doses they can expect in future shipments.
Starting next week, a minimum of 10 million vaccine doses per week will be distributed across states, tribes and territories. That’s an increase from 8.6 million doses per week, and a volume that administration officials say they will maintain for each of at least the next three weeks.
States then will continue to receive allocation estimates three weeks in advance, a shift from the week-ahead figures that the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed had offered to state officials.
“Until now, we’ve had to guess how much vaccine to get for the next week, and that’s what the governors had to do, how much am I getting next week?” Biden said Tuesday afternoon as he announced the policy changes. “This is unacceptable. Lives are at stake here.”
The administration also is working to purchase an additional 200 million vaccine doses — 100 million doses each of the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the only two that so far have cleared the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization process.
Those purchases would bring the total of vaccine doses expected to be delivered in the U.S. by this summer to 600 million, or enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans with the two-dose vaccines.
Governors were briefed on the upcoming changes Tuesday during a call with Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients.
“We appreciate the administration stating that it will provide states with slightly higher allocations for the next few weeks, but we are going to need much more supply,” Hogan said.
One of Biden’s first efforts since taking office last week has been attempting to overhaul the disjointed federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s required more mask-wearing, directed officials to fill gaps in supplies, announced a national strategy to standardize the state-by-state vaccine approach under the Trump administration, and called on Congress to provide more money for the national undertaking.
Incomplete and lagging data has clouded the picture of the vaccine administration campaign. While states have begged for more doses as vaccination appointments are quickly snatched up, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows a gap between the vaccine doses delivered to states and those that have been administered.
Of the more than 44 million doses that the CDC says have been delivered, only 23.5 million have gone into the arms of Americans so far. More than 20 million people have gotten their first doses, and roughly 3.5 million have gotten both doses.
Biden has said he wants to see 100 million doses administered during his first 100 days. The U.S. is on pace to meet that goal, and he’s suggested the administration may aim to reach 1.5 million doses per day, up from the current 1 million doses per day.
Hogan said Maryland’s private sector partnerships, coordination with local health departments and use of National Guard personnel are part of the state’s efforts to vaccinate “much higher volumes” of people.
“As soon as the state receives higher allocation from the federal government, our infrastructure will already be in place,” he said.
But Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) faulted Hogan’s reliance on the private sector, saying local governments are more efficient.
“Maryland statistics show that local health departments are getting shots in arms more efficiently than pharmacy chains and hospitals, but the state is shifting allocations toward the less efficient providers,” he told Maryland Matters. “I don’t get it.”
The governor said hospitals that have fallen under 75% of utilization “are not being prioritized for additional allocations and will not receive allocations until they demonstrate that they can pick up the pace.”
By Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters and Laura Olson of States Newsroom