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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott asks Johnson & Johnson to sell COVID vaccines directly to city

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is asking vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson to sell 300,000 doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to the city, circumventing the federal distribution system.

In a letter sent to the company’s CEO Monday, Scott proposed a partnership between the city and the vaccination supplier to speed up the city’s vaccination effort for its more than 600,000 residents. Such a partnership, in which Baltimore would pay the manufacturer an undisclosed sum, would require federal approval, Scott noted in his letter.

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“As such, I will request that the federal government make an exception for Johnson & Johnson to sell doses directly to the City of Baltimore,” Scott wrote.

Currently, the federal government has first right of purchase for coronavirus vaccines.

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During a news conference Monday, Scott, a Democrat, said he hadn’t had previous conversations with Johnson & Johnson about the proposed partnership, but was optimistic that a sale could take place.

”This is about doing what’s right, and what’s needed for the city. And we’re just very hopeful that Johnson & Johnson will realize where we are right now and where we are as a country, as a city and do something that will benefit the city in which they are producing that vaccine,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is being produced locally by Emergent BioSolutions at an East Baltimore factory near Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” Scott said.

“Nice try,” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday of Scott’s letter during a visit to the city’s mass vaccination site at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“Everybody would like to jump to the front of the line, but it’s not going to happen,” Hogan said.

A representative from the company could not be reached for comment Monday.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has not yet been approved for use, although the company has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization. The single-dose vaccine would be the first of its kind — the other two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna require two doses — but Johnson & Johnson’s product also has proved less effective than the vaccines already in use.

In his letter, Scott lamented that the city’s vaccination effort has been hampered by limited supply, a complaint made by other leaders across the country. According to the latest state health department data, Baltimore has administered almost 47,000 first doses of the vaccine — a feat Scott said was possible through a combination of the city’s health department and local hospitals.

“Unfortunately, due to the prioritization dictated to us by the state and the extraordinarily low supply provided to the City, only 3.4% of the city’s Black residents have received their first dose of the vaccine — that is unacceptable,” Scott wrote. “Of those doses that have been delivered by health care providers in Baltimore, less than 20% have been distributed to the City’s Health Department, giving the City very limited ability to improve these disparities.”

As part of his proposal, Scott said he would create a vaccine distribution task force to create a more equitable model for distribution.

“Inequity in vaccine distribution is a national disgrace,” Scott wrote. “I believe that, combined, the City of Baltimore and Johnson & Johnson can dismantle this challenge and create a national model for equitable vaccine distribution.”

Scott also spoke during Monday’s news conference about an effort to bring mobile vaccination clinics to city residents, with partners such as MedStar Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Lifebridge Health.

Vaccination vehicles will be able to vaccinate 50 to 100 people per trip, and senior living facilities will be prioritized, as will neighborhoods where low vaccination rates are anticipated, said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.

Tinisha Evans, Baltimore City Health Department, assists Shirley Creek, 83, to MedStar's mobile clinic outside Cherry Hill Senior Manor during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Friday morning.
Tinisha Evans, Baltimore City Health Department, assists Shirley Creek, 83, to MedStar's mobile clinic outside Cherry Hill Senior Manor during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Friday morning. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

“Today, we hope that some of our older residents and their concerned caretakers can begin to feel some sense of relief,” Dzirasa said. “The health department and our partners will be coming to you to provide vaccines in the weeks and months to come.”

The MedStar Health Mobile Health Center, a large truck with two exam rooms and a reception area, already has been used to vaccinate more than 60 people at South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill Senior Manor, said Ryan Moran, Director of Community Health for MedStar Health. The truck will stop by two other senior and low income housing facilities in South Baltimore this week, he said.

Lifebridge Health is outfitting two employee shuttles, which had been used for coronavirus testing, to serve as mobile vaccination centers, said Rebecca Altman, LifeBridge Health’s vice president and chief integration officer. The initial sites will be senior living facilities in West Baltimore near Grace Medical Center, Altman said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this report.

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