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Baltimore will vaccinate 80% of residents against coronavirus by February 2022 if current pace holds

Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, health commissioner for Baltimore, speaks Dec. 9, 2020, during the announcement of restrictions, including the closure of bars and restaurants as a surge of coronavirus infections swept over the city.
Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, health commissioner for Baltimore, speaks Dec. 9, 2020, during the announcement of restrictions, including the closure of bars and restaurants as a surge of coronavirus infections swept over the city. (Karl Merton Ferron/Karl Merton Ferron)

Baltimore’s Health Department has set a goal to vaccinate 80% of residents by February 2022 based on its current allotment of doses, although Mayor Brandon Scott said he hopes to significantly increase that pace.

Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa outlined the goal Wednesday night during a meeting of the City Council’s health, environment and technology committee to discuss the city’s vaccination plan.

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Questioned by council members, Dzirasa cautioned that the timeline is based on the number of doses the city is receiving from the state and includes a projection of how long it will take to vaccinate children. The vaccines currently available for the virus are not approved for use in children.

The Democratic mayor, who did not speak during the hearing, issued a statement afterward saying he is “confident” the city will beat the goal based upon an expected increase in production of the vaccines.

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“Hundreds of millions of vaccines will soon be available from the federal government,” he said in a tweet. “My administration is prepared for additional allocations and remains committed to an efficient, equitable distribution of vaccines.”

The health department has delivered more than 7,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine thus far and has been attempting to ramp up its distribution network for the city’s more than 600,000 residents. A mass vaccination site is open at Baltimore City Community College.

Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced two additional mass vaccination sites will be placed at the Baltimore Convention Center and M&T Bank Stadium.

Dzirasa told City Council members that she requests dosages of the vaccine from the state on a weekly basis, based on the number of appointments the city would like to schedule or how many doses city health officials would like to disseminate to community partners.

“Those requests are not always honored,” Dzirasa said. “The state will let us know a few days before delivery.”

The health department is not responsible for vaccinating every city resident. Baltimore’s hospital networks have also been distributing the vaccine, first to their employees.

Sherita Hill Golden, chief diversity officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine, said the network has distributed about 22,000 doses of the vaccine — most of them the first doses of the two-shot vaccination course. However, the Hopkins network, which extends beyond the city, has 45,000 to 50,000 employees, she said, indicating a significant number of people are still undecided about whether to get vaccinated.

“Those are the people we’re trying to reach,” she said.

Democratic Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said it was “alarming” to hear so many people in the health field had not yet opted to be vaccinated.

“I’m hoping it’s not because they’re not interested in it, because that would be sending a pretty shocking message, really, across the world, considering Hopkins has been a leader in this COVID fight,” he said.

According to state data Scott released Wednesday evening, 33,835 Baltimore residents have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 7,513 had received their second dose. The percentage of city residents who have received both doses is the third-highest for any jurisdiction in Maryland, Scott said in a news release.

“While I understand the frustration many feel with wanting to be vaccinated but not being able to get an appointment, I remind our residents that these challenges are not unique to our city or state,” Scott said. “In fact, many state and local governments are grappling with the same core problem: there are not enough vaccines nationwide.”

Several council members questioned city and local hospital officials about their plans to distribute the vaccine in an equitable way.

Hill Golden said Hopkins has filmed videos of Black and Hispanic physicians talking about the vaccine and made them available to other employees within the health network and to the public. Minority staff members said they wanted to hear from someone who looked like them, she said. The health network has also shared demographic information related to the vaccine trials showing Black and brown participants, she said.

But challenges remain. Hopkins is never sure what its allocation of vaccines will be, Hill Golden said. Sometimes, the network receives 9,000 doses in a week, other times 3,000, she said.

“You can see the equity challenge there,” she said. “You’ve got a 60-, 75-year-old. We’ve got dozens, but now we have to call them. And it may take three calls to reach that person. So, that’s why we’re thinking we need to make sure we have some set-aside doses for those who might take longer to be reached, but still want the vaccine.”

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