Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday that Maryland’s initial batch of coronavirus vaccines will only be enough for half of the state’s front-line health care workers, but he is hoping production will ramp up after “a little bit of a slow takeoff.”
The state’s first supply of 155,000 vaccines from drug companies Moderna and Pfizer “doesn’t get to anywhere near what we need in Phase One,” the Republican governor said at a State House news conference.
“That’s the bad news,” Hogan said. “The good news is they have great vaccines and they’re years ahead of schedule and we’re going to get some relatively fast.”
Neither Hogan nor his aides offered a specific timetable for the initial delivery. In a draft plan submitted to the federal government in October, state health officials envisioned a two-phase program that would first vaccinate health care workers and some of the most vulnerable state residents, and eventually turn to the general population once vaccines become widely available.
Hogan’s announcement came as the state reported 2,765 new coronavirus cases — the third-largest single-day total since officials began tracking the pandemic in March — and 30 more deaths. He warned that medical professionals believe the virus is not yet near its peak in Maryland and the “worst part of this entire crisis is still ahead of us over the next month or two.”
The governor stopped short of imposing new restrictions on Marylanders’ activities or businesses. However, he discussed new initiatives to address concerns about possible shortages of health care workers and hospital beds.
One program, called MarylandMedNow, will recruit people to work at state hospitals, nursing homes, testing sites and vaccination clinics. Maryland colleges and universities are being asked to develop emergency procedures to award academic credit to students for health care work during the pandemic.
Hogan also is giving the state’s hospitals until Dec. 8 to submit “patient surge plans” that must include strategies for expanding staffing and the number of hospital beds. To ensure there is availability for patients, hospitals will be required to expand staffed bed capacity by 10% if hospitals statewide reach at least 8,000 hospitalizations.
As of Tuesday, 6,780 people are in hospitals in Maryland, according to the state. Of those, 1,583 were hospitalized with virus-related complications. That figure has more than tripled since Nov. 1, when it stood at 523, and is approaching a late April peak of just over 1,700.
Hogan seemed briefly overcome by emotion when he said the state this week saw its youngest coronavirus fatality — a 1-year-old boy.
“Sadly, we have lost our youngest victim,” he said. No further information has been provided about the child.
Maryland has reported 1,000 or more new confirmed cases for 28 consecutive days.
“Hospitals are the last line of defense,” said Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University in Washington. “The first line is the community.”
“Yes, we should be doing all these measures in the hospitals, planning for surge capacity by increasing the health care workforce and space,” said Wen, who is also a former Baltimore health commissioner. “What we really need is to stop this trajectory of escalating infections. That includes putting in more restrictions on individual behavior, especially as we’re headed into the holiday season.”
In March, Maryland bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms closed their doors under an unprecedented order by Hogan to slow the initial outbreak. Grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and other essential services remained open but with restrictions.
Those restrictions began to ease in May, but Hogan and governors across the nation have revisited the rules as cases have risen again. Last month, Hogan ordered a 10 p.m. closing time for restaurants, limited capacity at stores and houses of worship to 50%, banned fans from sports stadiums and racetracks, and halted most visitation at hospitals and nursing homes.
Asked Tuesday about whether he was considering further restrictions, the governor replied he was making decisions when “they are necessary. The current focus today is on our health care providers and our hospitals and the people in those hospitals we’re trying to keep alive.”
Maryland’s vaccination plan, submitted to the federal government and released publicly in October, contemplates a first phase — when only limited doses might be available — focusing on hospitals, nursing homes and local health departments.
The plan estimated the first phase would include about 14% of Maryland residents. The goal is to get the initial doses to people in ways that will reduce serious illness and deaths until vaccines are more widely available.
The second phase, when more doses become available, would target the general population.
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“It’s sort of like testing, when we started with 50 tests a day and then we got up to 50,000 tests a day in some cases,” Hogan said. “This is going to be a little bit of a slow takeoff in some cases as they get producing and then, hopefully, we’re really going to start to get some volume out.”
With the necessary federal approvals, Moderna and Pfizer have said millions of Americans could be vaccinated before the end of the year, although that would be a fraction of what ultimately will be required.
Both the vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which start with a bit of genetic material from a “spike” protein found on the coronavirus. Two doses are required, and Hogan said it was not immediately certain if the 155,000 vaccines destined for Maryland included both doses or just the first one.
Hogan also announced that the state’s acting deputy secretary for public health services, Dr. Jinlene Chan, will lead Maryland’s vaccination distribution efforts. He said Dennis Schrader, who has been leading the state Health Department’s surge operations, will become acting health secretary. Secretary of Health Robert Neall retired Tuesday, as planned.
The Maryland Hospital Association said it welcomed the initiatives announced by Hogan.
“The new directives the governor issued today will help hospitals and state and local government agencies to coordinate and manage through the next stage of the surge,” said Bob Atlas, the association’s president and CEO. “Hospitals all have plans in place and they are already adjusting to meet the demand.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn and Ben Leonard contributed to this article.