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Hogan doubles down on Baltimore COVID vaccine comments as data reveals most city doses going to noncity residents

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan doubled down Tuesday on his comment last week that Baltimore received more COVID-19 vaccines than it was “entitled to,” though data released this week by his administration shows the majority of immunizations directed to providers in the city have been shot into the arms of people from other jurisdictions.

While Baltimore had received 114,714 doses of the vaccine as of the time of Hogan’s remarks Thursday, just 38.5% of those immunizations — 44,193 doses — were given to city residents, according to Maryland Department of Health data released by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s office.

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Asked at a news conference Tuesday about his remarks last week, which outraged city leaders and perplexed public health experts, Hogan said his assertion that Baltimore had received an oversize share of vaccines was factual and reiterated that it was a priority of his administration to ensure the vaccine rollout was equitable.

Hogan acknowledged concerns about vaccine access, pointing to his administration’s announcement Monday that the mass vaccination clinic at the Baltimore Convention Center would focus on vaccinating vulnerable and hard-to-reach city residents — a moved lauded by some city health and elected officials.

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“My comment was simply a factual one, saying that the city actually had a higher allocation ... they were the fourth highest population, but they received the most allocation,” Hogan said.

Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, said the governor was referring to the week of Feb. 22, when he said Baltimore received 14,000 doses. The state this week provided a breakdown of how many doses each county received for their various providers over three weeks in February. Baltimore, the fourth most populous jurisdiction in Maryland, received the third most doses over that stretch.

But since Dec. 15, providers across Baltimore administered 55,936 immunizations, about 48.8% of the city’s allocation, to residents of surrounding Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties, the data released by Scott’s office shows. Baltimore County residents got the second largest share behind city residents, receiving about 31.6%.

About 4% of Baltimore’s share went to Montgomery County residents, approximately 5% went to residents of counties not specified and roughly 3% went to out of state residents.

The state’s vaccination campaign first focused on front-line healthcare workers and Baltimore is home to 11 hospitals, staffed by many people who live outside of the city.

“Baltimoreans are still struggling to access the vaccine and more must be done to ensure an equitable distribution across the state,” Scott said in a statement released by his office Tuesday evening, noting racial disparity among those in Baltimore who’ve received the vaccine.

“We appreciate the State’s partnership in establishing mass vaccination sites and recently pop-up clinics, but more must be done so that our most vulnerable communities are not left behind,” the Democrat added.

The revelation about Baltimore’s vaccines going to residents outside the city prompted Baltimore’s delegation to the Maryland Senate to write a letter Monday to the Republican governor, urging a greater allocation for the city.

“Clearly, the vaccine distribution plan is not being executed equitably,” wrote the senators, all Democrats. “Thus we are asking for greater collaboration to ensure City residents are vaccinated.”

Their letter acknowledged Baltimore’s various hospitals. The latest allocation data provided by the state showed that hospitals in Baltimore received more than twice as many doses as the city’s health department throughout three weeks in February.

“Those doses should not be counted against us,” said Sen. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat, in a phone interview.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agreed.

In an interview Tuesday, Sharfstein said hospitals serve the regions around them, not just one county or city where they’re located. Rather than looking at numbers of doses allocated by county, Sharfstein suggested a better way to examine equity.

“The measure of whether Baltimore has fair access to vaccines is the vaccination rate of city residents,” Sharfstein said. “That’s the right measure.”

As of Tuesday, state data showed 11.9% of the city’s residents had received one of two vaccine doses required to prevent severe illness — the third smallest proportion in the state.

“It’s important to be concerned about the numbers and work to manage the rollout in a fair way,” Sharfstein said.

In their letter, Baltimore’s senators suggested allowing the city health department to be responsible for a greater share of the vaccine. The department, “which serves our most vulnerable residents including adults over 65 and our communities that are hardest to reach, deserves an equitable allocation of the vaccine,” they wrote.

McCray, who chairs the city’s Senate delegation, emphasized that the city’s vulnerable and minority residents were being cut out of the vaccination process — just 6% of Baltimore’s Black residents, who account for more than 60% of the city’s population, have been vaccinated, according the letter McCray signed.

“Everyone is on one accord as to an equitable amount of doses coming to the city of Baltimore except for Gov. Hogan,” McCray said.

But Ricci said in an email that about 54% of the doses administered by the Baltimore City Health Department have gone to city residents. Furthermore, the city’s health department recently redirected some of its own doses to hospitals to target vulnerable city residents.

The data about Baltimore’s vaccine administration could reflect that frontline healthcare workers were among the first groups to be prioritized for vaccinations, Ricci said. Baltimore has a “huge health care workforce that does not reside in the city.”

“To try and compensate, the geographic allocation to the city is running about 10% above its pro rata share,” Ricci said. “And of course we are now adding a mass vax site dedicated solely to city residents.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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