Nearly three dozen county leaders from across Maryland have sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, expressing their frustration and concern about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and offering five solutions to help improve the process.
The letter, dated Feb. 8, was signed by 33 county leaders from 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. The only counties not represented were Allegany and Calvert. It includes the signatures of Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and Frederick County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D).
Maryland is currently in Phase 1C of its vaccine rollout, which means that roughly 2.1 million state residents are eligible to receive the vaccine, including anyone 65 and over, first responders, licensed health care providers, residents of nursing homes, assisted living and other congregate facilities and employees in essential-service industries.
However, fewer than a million doses of the two-shot vaccine from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna have been distributed across a state of 6 million people so far by the federal government, and just over 700,000 have been administered.
A spokesperson for Hogan did not immediately respond to questions about the letter. The governor has said in previous public remarks that he was encouraged to accelerate the rollout and expand vaccine eligibility by federal officials and county leaders across the state despite the limited supply of vaccine that he had been warning about for weeks.
“First, it’s like, ‘You are going too slow.’ [Then], ‘You are going too fast,’” Hogan said during a news conference about the vaccine on Jan. 26.
In the past week, at Hogan’s direction, the state has opened mass vaccination centers at the Baltimore Convention Center and the Six Flags America amusement park in Prince George’s County.
However, as more mass vaccination sites and private vaccination clinics come online, county leaders, such as Gardner, have expressed concern that future shipments to public-sector distributors like the Frederick County Health Department and Frederick Health Hospital will have a reduced number of doses as a result.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the county health department had not yet received its shipment of vaccine for the week. Officials were hopeful it would arrive on Wednesday so the department can make appointments for the three vaccination sites it is currently running.
Due to the limited supply, the county health department has only been vaccinating people in Phase 1A — first responders and licensed health care providers — as well as anyone 75 and older and a select number of educators per week who fall under the 1B category of the rollout.
“We are ready to distribute more vaccine doses, but the problem is we have less vaccine in recent weeks,” Gardner said in an email to the News-Post Tuesday afternoon.
Gardner said the county’s public-health sector (the health department, the hospital and community action agency) have been collectively receiving about 3,000 first doses of vaccine per week, and this week it was scheduled to receive 2,100.
“This would suggest that about 900 doses are going elsewhere,” she said. “We only have one private sector pharmacy at this point distributing vaccine, which is the Giant Pharmacy on Kingfisher [Drive]. While we are not sure of their allocation of vaccine because it is not reported to us, we thought it was about 400 doses.”
Gardner continued, “I am very concerned with the apparent decrease in our total county allocation. While I am actively advocating for more, as are other counties, it appears there is a reallocation of doses to mass vaccination sites and new private sector partners. It is not transparent, so it is hard to be certain.”
In their letter to Hogan, the county leaders urged the governor to be more transparent about vaccine distribution.
They encouraged Hogan to share vaccine allocation projections with the public and release them sooner, demonstrate the counties are receiving their share of doses by publishing private provider allocations by distribution site, fulfill local health department weekly requests before allocating doses to private providers or state sites, allow local health departments to operate one-stop pre-registration or create a statewide system and expedite the release of $400 million in federal vaccination, testing, contact tracing and COVID mitigation funds to help local health departments.
The letter concludes, “Counties stand ready as a partner and resource for the all-important goal of vaccinating Marylanders. We thank you for your consideration of these suggestions and invite you to engage with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) on our behalf to discuss these suggestions further.”
Gardner shared part of an email she received from a constituent that stated, “All centers in the county, including Frederick Health, should be under one registry, open to all and advancing through the eligibility categories at the same rate.”
According to the state’s online vaccine dashboard, 920,475 doses of vaccine have been distributed across Maryland by the federal government. Of those, 727,828 have been administered into arms. That includes 558,838 first doses and 168,990 second doses.
In Frederick County, 26,870 first doses have been administered, and 6,466 second doses have been put into arms, according to the state.
“Some of these challenges will be cured with more vaccine,” Gardner said. “However, we still need to collectively focus on streamlining the process and to eliminate the confusion that exists with encouraging people to sign up for vaccine at multiple locations.”