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Maryland health officials tell lawmakers about plans for eventual coronavirus vaccine procurement, distribution

As health officials face skepticism about rushed COVID-19 vaccines, Maryland will conduct outreach efforts to promote trust in a vaccine when a safe one becomes available, the state’s deputy health secretary said Wednesday.

Dr. Jinlene Chan told a panel of state lawmakers the health department recognizes that historically there are groups that may be more hesitant to accept a vaccination than others.

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“Our outreach efforts, we absolutely recognize, will need to be culturally competent and reach minority populations and take into account those different populations throughout the state in terms of communication, in terms of education and not just language appropriate, but also culturally appropriate,” Chan said.

Dr. Jinlene Chan, pictured Oct. 27, Maryland's acting deputy health secretary, said her department will have two coronavirus vaccine advisory groups. One will examine vaccine data as it is released. Another will include input from representatives from minority and faith-based community groups.
Dr. Jinlene Chan, pictured Oct. 27, Maryland's acting deputy health secretary, said her department will have two coronavirus vaccine advisory groups. One will examine vaccine data as it is released. Another will include input from representatives from minority and faith-based community groups. (Brian Witte/AP)

She said the health department will have two advisory groups. One will examine vaccine data as it is released. Another will include input from representatives from minority and faith-based community groups.

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“Pulling that together is important, because we do want to make sure that we have important minority, faith-based community groups represented, so that we can work with them to understand where the questions are and what the needs are of the communities that we serve,” Chan said.

Robert Neall, the state’s health secretary, told lawmakers that the state submitted a plan for distributing a vaccine in Maryland this month to federal officials. He said the plan will evolve as more information becomes available.

“We need more information from the federal government on distribution cost-sharing and federally provided supplies,” Neall said. “That’s sketchy right now and it’s really one of my biggest worries, because if the federal government says they’re going to provide something and then change their mind, we might have supply-chain issues.”

Neall said health care providers are currently registering with the state to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. He said local health departments, hospital systems and pharmacies will also be key partners for vaccine administration.

Sen. James Rosapepe, a Democrat who is a member of the legislature’s COVID-19 panel, asked whether Neall is assuming that the federal government will be the only source of a vaccine, or if he is considering whether the state would be able to acquire vaccinations on its own.

“I have an aversion to assuming anything, but I think the major stream is going to be from the federal government, because they purchased hundreds of millions of doses, and I think the pharmaceutical firms are obligated to fill those orders first, and I would certainly want to get our fair share of that allocation,” Neall said.

The briefing with state lawmakers came as the state reported 684 new coronavirus cases Wednesday morning and hospitalizations reached 501 — the highest since August. The virus has been linked to at least 3,969 deaths in the state.

Senate President Bill Ferguson said the state “is starting to get to a place where we may need to bear down again.” While he said that doesn’t mean closures, residents need to be mindful.

“We’re going to have to be ever more vigilant,” Ferguson said.

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