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Maryland to close mass COVID vaccination sites at M&T Bank Stadium, Ripken Stadium

Maryland officials are beginning to wind down some of the mass coronavirus vaccination sites, beginning with the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.

Ripken Stadium will close this month and M&T will close next month, according to officials with Harford County and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

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The closings are not unexpected, as Gov. Larry Hogan has said in recent news conferences that demand for COVID-19 vaccines at the sites has dropped and officials would concentrate more on smaller, targeted clinics to continue tackling the pandemic.

“The demand is not there anymore,” said Molly Mraz, Harford County Health Department spokesperson.

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Officials with the Maryland Department of Health wouldn’t provide details Wednesday and said more information would be coming Thursday.

Ripken Stadium is slated to close June 19, county health officials said. M&T Bank Stadium’s date was unclear. During a Stadium Authority board meeting held Tuesday, officials said the closure would be July 15, but an informational website for the site had said it would close July 2 and dispense its last first doses June 10, though that information was taken down Wednesday afternoon.

There were no appointments listed online for the M&T Bank Stadium site on the building’s club level after June 10.

The Stadium Authority board said the site’s hours already had been reduced after an estimated 200,000 doses were administered.

The state has been operating more than a dozen mass sites around Maryland with various partners for months to vaccinate thousands of people a day.

About 3.2 million people have gotten at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna and an additional 237,000 have gotten the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, combining to at least partially vaccinate 70.3% of the state’s adults. About 56.5% have been fully vaccinated.

State health officials, hospitals and health departments around Maryland have been ramping up smaller, targeted clinics, taking supplies directly to apartments, churches and other venues, hoping to get those who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to a mass site.

Vaccine is also available in pharmacies, doctors’ offices and elsewhere now.

The drop in demand at mass sites marks a stark change from months ago when there weren’t enough appointments to go around, and various citizen-run groups popped up to help get people a shot.

The state has taken to offering incentives to get more people’s attention, including a lottery with cash prizes for getting vaccinated and paying $100 to state employees who get a shot.

Shutting down some or all of the mass vaccination venues isn’t necessarily the wrong decision, so long as resources are redirected to other avenues to vaccine people, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former Maryland health secretary and vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“The key is this does not signal a decline in demand for vaccine, it’s just a decline in demand at these places,” Sharfstein said. “So you have to find the demand and meet it where it is.”

Capitalizing on demand will be important to keep COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at bay. Cases have dropped substantially since a January peak, but if vaccinations don’t continue, there could be a fall surge, he said.

Sharfstein pointed to the Scenario Modeling Hub, which is a group of scientists, including those from Hopkins, who regularly game out cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the pandemic.

At just under 70% fully vaccinated, the nation could see another wave, but over 80% could forestall that outcome, the modelers found.

“The modelers around the country show how important vaccinations are,” Sharfstein said. “If we let up on this effort the virus is totally waiting for the fall.”

Baltimore Sun Media reporter S. Wayne Carter Jr. contributed to this article.

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