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Maryland COVID vaccine eligibility expands next week to include all with CDC underlying conditions, disabilities

Starting next week, people with a range of underlying medical conditions identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as risk factors for severe cases of the coronavirus will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination appointments, state officials said Tuesday.

Currently, cancer patients, people with end-stage renal disease on hemodialysis, sickle-cell disease patients, people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and solid organ transplant recipients qualify for vaccines in the state, though they have to be receiving inpatient or outpatient treatment in a hospital setting.

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Now, people with those conditions who are not actively receiving hospital-based treatment will be eligible.

The CDC has also classified the following people as at an increased risk of serious illness due to COVID-19:

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  • People with chronic kidney disease
  • People with Down syndrome
  • People with heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies
  • People body mass indexes of 30 or higher
  • People who are pregnant
  • People who smoke

Additionally, the CDC says people with the following conditions might be at risk for severe illness from the coronavirus:

  • People with moderate-to-severe asthma
  • People with cerebrovascular disease
  • People with Cystic fibrosis
  • People with hypertension or high blood pressure
  • People in an immunocompromised state from a blood or bone marrow transplant; immune deficiencies; HIV; use of corticosteroids, or due to use of other immune-weakening medications
  • People with liver disease
  • People with neurological conditions, such as dementia
  • People with body mass indexes of 25 to 30
  • People with pulmonary fibrosis, or scarred lung tissues
  • People with Thalassemia, a type of blood disorder

On Tuesday, Dr. Jinlene Chan, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said people from both CDC lists would be eligible for vaccines in Phase 2B.

But on Monday, state acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said there might be some adjustments made before Phase 2B officially goes into effect, though he did not specify whether that meant there would be subtractions made to the CDC’s list.

“We may want to make a couple tweaks to that list before we send it out,” he told lawmakers during a virtual Vaccine Oversight Workgroup committee meeting, adding that medical professionals were reviewing the list. “Because we had another week, we wanted to take that time.”

Charles Gischlar, a Maryland Department of Health spokesperson, said while the state agency will “generally align” with CDC guidance on underlying conditions, officials will release further details in the coming days as to what exactly qualifies.

Phase 2B of the vaccine rollout also includes individuals 16 and older with disabilities. Schrader, on Monday, said that means people who receive federal or state disability insurance and people enrolled in the state’s Employed Individuals with Disabilities Program.

The eligibility list expansion comes as Maryland officials brace for an influx of vaccine from the federal government. Starting at the end of March, 300,000 to 400,000 first and second doses per week may be available to order from the federal government, Schrader said Monday.

It also follows a vaccine rollout marked by tough choices from providers as they consider multiple competing priority groups for vaccinations. Starting this week, adults 60 and older became eligible for vaccine appointments, joining health care workers, some essential workers, adults 65 and older, nursing home residents and staffers, educators, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and assisted living residents and employees.

Chan said the state’s partnering with primary care physicians to deliver vaccines into communities will help make the transition into the next eligibility group flow smoothly.

“If you have a chronic illness, you’re likely connected with a physician, so we want to get those vaccines out there,” Chan said. “And it really sets us up for, come end of April and May, when it’s opened up. That’s what we’re really ramping up for now.”

Vaccine providers may take “reasonable efforts” to verify the eligibility of people seeking vaccines, according to the state. But, they cannot require a person to provide proof of a co-morbid or underlying condition or disability, such as a doctor’s note. They also cannot ask for people to specify which underlying condition they have.

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also said the state would double the number of mass vaccination centers it oversees from six to 12 by the end of April. The new sites in Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Frederick, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties would help accommodate the boost in vaccines coming to the state, Hogan said, adding that more mass sites are also possible.

The governor said he aimed for all interested adults in Maryland who wanted to get vaccinated to have access to appointments before July 4, the date marked as a goal by President Joe Biden’s administration.

All Marylanders 16 and older will become vaccine-eligible on or about April 27, according to the state’s timeline.

Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.

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