Gov. Larry Hogan expects COVID-19 vaccine distribution across Maryland to ramp up in much the same way testing did over the the last 10 months.
"It took us almost nine months to go from 50 tests a day to 50,000," Hogan said at a State House news conference Tuesday.
The governor said the current pace of the vaccine rollout is ahead of where the testing effort was just a few weeks in, but it is still far too slow to bring the raging pandemic under control.
On Thursday, Maryland reported nearly 3,000 new cases of COVID-19, including 137 in Frederick County, bringing the overall number of confirmed cases in the state to 295,874.
There were 44 related deaths statewide, including two in Frederick County, which raised the overall total to 6,004 in the state and 196 in the county.
At the current pace of the vaccine rollout — Maryland has administered an average of 4,000 doses per day since the effort began on Dec. 15 — Hogan said that only 30 percent of the state will be vaccinated by the end of May.
He said he expects the pace to pick up, and it has this week. On Tuesday, a record 11,553 doses were administered in Maryland, one day before the state began administering second doses to some of its health care workers on the front lines battling the virus.
By Thursday, a total of 98,536 first doses had been administered across the state, while 1,474 received the second dose, according to the Maryland Department of Health's vaccine dashboard.
In Frederick County, roughly 874 of 3,800 doses had been administered by the Frederick County Health Department, according to Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county health officer.
Meanwhile, at Frederick Health Hospital, 2,061 of 4,225 doses had been administered as of Jan. 6, Brookmyer said.
Hogan and county leaders have pleaded for patience as the process moves along. Hogan called the vaccine rollout at Tuesday's new conference "without question the greatest peacetime undertaking in American history."
The pace of the rollout will depend largely on the size and frequency of the vaccine shipments from the federal government that bypass state hands and are shipped directly to hospitals, local health departments and providers with government contracts, such as CVS and Walgreens.
Brookmyer said one of the challenges of distribution thus far is not knowing how much vaccine the health department will receive in current shipments.
“I didn’t know prior to Monday that we would be receiving 2,300 dosages, and that I would be receiving them on Monday,” Brookmyer said. “So one of the challenges is: Do I schedule appointments in advance and have [patients] enter their information, and then say, ‘Sorry, we didn’t get enough vaccine.’”
Standing up clinics for vaccinations is not new to the health department, although social distancing and logging all of the vaccine recipients through software is, she added.
"People could just come in, fill out the [paperwork], sometime later we could do the data entry. Well, now it has to all be done right away, and ... the data entered within 24 hours.”
Right now, Maryland is receiving about 72,000 doses per week from the U.S. government as part of Operation Warp Speed, Hogan said.
As of Tuesday, a little more than 28 percent of the overall doses received by the state had been administered, Hogan said, which is right in line the national rate reported on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
At his news conference, Hogan said Maryland hospitals had administered 34.3 percent of the doses they had received, and that local health departments had administered 32.4 percent of their doses received.
State nursing homes and long-term care facilities lagged far behind that with only 13.8 percent of their total number of doses being administered. The vaccines at those facilities are being administered through a federal contract with CVS and Walgreens.
Hogan said he had long and productive conversations with the CEOs of those companies, as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, about the slow rollout with nursing homes and long-term care providers.
In order to speed up distribution of the vaccine, Hogan issued a series of executive orders Tuesday, including one that will require all vaccine providers to report data to the state's tracking system, ImmnuNet, within 24 hours of administration.
Any vaccine provider that had not administered at least 75 percent of their first bath of vaccines might get future shipments reduced until they can prove they can distribute it more efficiently, Hogan said.
The first phase of the rollout, 1A, is comprised of front-line health care workers, the residents and staff of nursing homes and first responders. That's about 500,000 people, Hogan said.
The next phase, 1B, involves roughly 860,000 Maryland residents, including anyone 75 or older, high-risk prison inmates, teachers, childcare and educational staff and those involved in "the continuity of government."
Hogan said they hope to begin Phase 1B in late January, though providers are not required to wait for one phase to be entirely completed before beginning the next one.
Brookmyer and County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said they’re looking forward to a more steady and predictable stream of vaccinations in the coming weeks.
Brookmyer said it will be important for primary care providers and pharmacies to be able to use any vaccines, as residents may feel more comfortable going to those facilities, and officials there might have a better understanding of which patients most need the vaccine.
In order to encourage the public that the vaccine is safe, the health department has assigned one of its employees to do community engagement with churches, social clubs and other partners.
Gardner said she would "absolutely" get the vaccine when it is her turn, and she believes the recent spread of the virus may change some people’s minds, even though some may always be opposed.
“I do think some of the people who were either a ‘maybe’ or a ‘no,’ once they see other people getting it and they don’t see the bad reactions … once that gets cured, they’re more interested in it,” Gardner said. “More people now, because we’ve seen more spread, have seen people they know who have gotten sick. And I think that’s changed some hearts and minds there too.”