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Baltimore, Prince George’s leaders push for more equitable COVID vaccine plan: ‘We can reverse the course’

The leaders of Maryland’s two largest majority-Black jurisdictions on Wednesday urged the state to do a better job distributing vaccines in an equitable way.

“Despite statements otherwise, the residents of Baltimore City are both entitled to — and deserve — the vaccines,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott said. “However our residents do not have equitable access to vaccine doses and the state is not providing an equitable share across jurisdictions.”

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Scott and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, both Democrats, expressed their concerns about low vaccination rates during an emergency joint video meeting of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County state lawmakers Wednesday.

Data shows that white Marylanders have received more than four times as many vaccine shots as Black residents have, despite the coronavirus hitting Black Marylanders more with illnesses and deaths.

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The disparity is particularly acute in Baltimore and Prince George’s, which combined host the first three state-run mass vaccination sites but still have slow vaccination rates.

At the state-run mass vaccination site at Six Flags in Prince George’s, just 11.2% of those served are residents of that county. One-third of those vaccinated at Six Flags live in neighboring Montgomery County.

And in Baltimore City, nearly 115,000 shots have been given at the mass vaccination sites, hospitals and other locations, but just 38.5% of shots have gone to city residents. The rest have gone to residents of other counties, primarily Baltimore County, and even a few people who live in other states.

Gov. Larry Hogan said last week that Baltimore, specifically, had received more doses than the city was “entitled” to a comment he defended this week as “factual.”

Even so, the state has started to make some adjustments, including reserving a portion of vaccine appointments at the Baltimore Convention Center vaccination sites for residents of targeted city ZIP codes.

And Thursday, Hogan says, he will be making further announcements about how to achieve vaccine equity. The Republican governor will be joined at a State House news conference by Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, who is leading the state’s vaccine equity effort.

Scott, Alsobrooks and other local leaders shared specific ideas for how to improve equity in vaccinations, from where to locate vaccination sites to setting aside days for local residents and ways to make scheduling appointments easier.

Though they chided Hogan’s administration as being late to recognize disparities, they said it’s not too late.

“We can reverse the course. We can put Maryland at the top,” said Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby.

Alsobrooks said it’s not a matter of Baltimore and Prince George’s begging for special treatment from the state. It’s a matter of making sure all residents have access to what they deserve, she said.

“Every one of these vaccines belong to our residents because our taxpayers paid for the vaccines,” said Alsobrooks, a Democrat.

Dr. George Askew, a deputy county administrator in Prince George’s, said officials should not “hide behind the veil of vaccine hesitancy” in explaining the low vaccination rates among minority residents. More than 100,000 residents in his county signed up on a waiting list for the vaccine, he said.

Prince Georgians want the vaccine, Askew said, but they just can’t get it due to barriers such as the confusing appointment booking system, the lack of internet access, the lack of transportation and the inability to take off work on short notice.

And he pointed out that officials should not equate equality, which is giving everyone the same, with equity, which would be giving everyone what they need to achieve the same outcome. Distributing vaccines using a population-based formula, without considering other factors, will serve only to perpetuate inequities, Askew said.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones praised the Baltimore and Prince George’s County lawmakers for making their concerns public with the meeting, which was broadcast on Facebook to an audience of more than 100 viewers. Jones, a Democrat from Baltimore County, said Hogan’s team would take notice.

“This sends a major message, what was outlined,” she said. “I’m sure that the governor’s people are sharing this and are going to play it to him.”

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