In light of reduced COVID-19 vaccine allocations to Frederick Health Hospital and the Frederick County Health Department, County Executive Jan Gardner expressed concern Wednesday over the county receiving less vaccine than it was in previous weeks, even as the national vaccination effort appears to be gaining steam.
In a sharply worded press release, Gardner said, "Frederick County as a whole appears to be receiving fewer [first] doses and less than our fair share based on population. Unfortunately, many citizens who are eligible to receive a vaccine are choosing to travel to a state mass vaccination site in order to access an appointment. But there are many people who do not have the ability to drive elsewhere."
Gardner (D) said the hospital and county health department are better able to serve vulnerable populations than private-sector pharmacies. So, reducing allocations to hospitals and health departments could raise vaccine equity concerns.
“Our local public health system has been doing a stellar job vaccinating the public and operating efficient vaccination clinics,” Gardner said. “... While it appears that vaccine doses have been re-allocated to private sector pharmacies and mass vaccination sites, this is uncertain due to lack of transparency about where doses have been allocated."
On Tuesday, the White House announced that weekly vaccine shipments that states receive will grow from 11 million to 13.5 million first doses. On Wednesday, it said that the U.S. was vaccinating roughly 1.7 million people per day compared to one million per day last month.
In Maryland, more than 936,000 vaccine doses have been delivered into arms so far. That includes about 43,000 in Frederick County.
Last week, Gardner was among Maryland county leaders who jointly wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) expressing concern about the lack of transparency with private-sector vaccine providers, among other things.
Dennis Schrader, Maryland's acting secretary of health, responded to that request by saying, "As stated on numerous occasions, Maryland’s goal is to provide each jurisdiction with its [prorated] percentage share of doses by population across all providers, with adjustments for providers who are efficient at vaccine administration and who comply with the state’s vaccine priority directives."
Schrader added, "These neighborhood pharmacies that people know and trust are an important component of both the federal and state distribution plan to expand access, equity, and consumer choice."
For the first seven weeks of the vaccine rollout, Frederick Health Hospital and the county health department were collectively receiving between 2,000 and 3,250 first doses of vaccine, according to Gardner.
According to four-week projections from the Maryland Health Department, the county health department will receive 1,300 first doses per week, while the hospital will get 100.
There are two private-sector vaccine providers in the county at the moment. They are the Giant supermarket pharmacy on Kingfisher Drive and the CVS Pharmacy on Worthington Boulevard in Urbana.
The Giant pharmacy is one of 51 in Maryland operating through the Federal Pharmacy Transfer Program, according to Schrader. Each of those pharmacies is receiving 200 doses per week through the program.
It's unclear how many doses CVS pharmacies are receiving per week since those allocations are controlled by the federal government and not disclosed to the states, according to a spokesman for the governor.
So, if the county health department and the hospital are receiving 1,400 doses per week and the Giant pharmacy is getting 200 — and presuming the CVS in Urbana is getting roughly the same — Gardner is worried the county is losing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,400 first doses per week from what it previously was receiving.
She said it's unclear where those doses are going, although she suspects they are being used to help prop up private-sector and mass vaccination sites elsewhere around the state.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, said, "We are all very frustrated by the lack of vaccine supply right now. [Frederick County] is above the state average for vaccinations, and receives an equitable share of vaccines across all providers."
Ricci pointed out that the allotment the county health department received last week (1,300 first doses) matches the allotment it is scheduled to receive this week.
As of Wednesday, however, that shipment had yet to show up due to the winter storm that is impacting much of the U.S., according to Gardner.
On the other hand, this week's allotment of second doses had arrived.
The wide-ranging winter storm has forced the health department to close its vaccine clinics Thursday and move them to Sunday with appointment times remaining the same.
The clinic scheduled for Thursday at Scott Key Center will be moved to Butterfly Ridge Elementary School on Sunday. Meanwhile, clinics already scheduled at Butterfly Ridge and Frederick Community College will remain at those locations Sunday.
Gardner said the concerns about dwindling vaccine supply are not new or unique to Frederick County, and the issue has been raised in calls with state leaders.
She said one of the biggest issues remains the lack of transparency with the vaccine allocation and distribution going on in the private sector, especially as more sites come online.
Next week, the state will open a mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore that will join existing mass vaccination sites at the Baltimore Convention Center and the Six Flags America amusement park in Prince George's County.
"It just causes confusion," Gardner said of the lack of transparency.