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Former Trump CDC director tapped as Hogan COVID-19 adviser; Western Maryland mass COVID vaccine site announced

Dr. Robert Redfield, former CDC director, now an unpaid public health adviser to Governor Hogan.

A top former federal public health official, Dr. Robert Redfield, will serve as a senior adviser for Maryland’s COVID-19 response, including the state’s vaccination campaign, which soon will feature mass vaccination clinics in five geographic regions, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday.

Redfield served as the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2018 to 2021 under then-President Donald Trump. He’ll advise Maryland’s Republican governor on a range of public health matters, including the vaccine rollout, the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants and how to safely reopen the state.

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In his volunteer capacity, Redfield will help oversee the campaign that’s seen vaccines given to more than 1.3 million people, but which has been criticized as confusing, inequitable and lacking transparency.

At a news conference, Hogan touted Redfield’s role in combating the pandemic from the helm of the U.S. public health authority. Redfield left office in January and Hogan said he planned to return to Maryland, where he cofounded the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology and served as chief of infectious disease and vice chair of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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“I have always emphasized how important it is to follow the science and to get the very best advice from the medical experts and we’re very fortunate to have such a renowned expert as Dr. Redfield,” said Hogan, adding that Redfield would join a “world-class” team of doctors and public health experts.

But Redfield’s time leading the CDC under Trump was not without problems, and his leadership of the agency during the pandemic came under scrutiny. The Trump administration was criticized for being slow to respond and for providing inconsistent messaging about COVID.

Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat that the virus posed to Americans, was reluctant to wear masks and contradicted public health messages about how to slow the spread of the virus.

Redfield defended his tenure, saying the center remained the “premiere public health agency of the world” and that in response to the pandemic, “generated literally thousands of pages of recommendations to the American public.”

Still, Redfield expressed some remorse about the lack of a clear message, though he distanced himself from responsibility.

“We did put science first,” Redfield said. “I am, if anything I was disappointed of through my time at CDC, was the inconsistency of messaging. It’s really important in public health, and [Marylanders] are so fortunate with Governor Hogan, to have that public health message echoed by civic leaders. We stood for that and across the country, unfortunately, there were a number of civic leaders that didn’t echo the public health message.”

Hogan defended Redfield, pointing to the federal government’s success in working with drug companies to develop and produce safe vaccines.

“He was on the Operation Warp Speed board that made these incredible accomplishments that are enabling us to save lives right now. Under the CDC guidance is what we followed throughout the entire pandemic, and the great advice that they promulgated,” Hogan said.

He added: “I’m not going to sit here and defend everything that the president said or did, or re-litigate the past, and I’m not sure Dr. Redfield wants to do that, either. But I don’t think most of that criticism was ever directed at him or any of his leadership of that agency.”

Hogan found support for his Redfield pick from one person who has been critical of the governor’s pandemic management: Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who posted on Twitter: “This is a very positive development to bring additional expertise on board for Maryland.”

Hogan also announced that the state would open, by the end of March, its sixth mass vaccination site, located at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets in Western Maryland.

Maryland is operating or setting up sites in five geographic regions: Western Maryland; two in the Baltimore area; the Eastern Shore; the Washington, D.C., area; and Southern Maryland. Hogan said the state is discussing with interested counties the potential for standing up similar sites in their jurisdictions.

More vaccination sites and an approximately 50,000-dose initial boost to the state’s vaccine supply from the newly approved Johnson & Johnson product come as it’s urgent for the state to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. Three variant coronavirus strains have been identified in Maryland and two have spread considerably since being detected.

Hogan added that after the one-time influx of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson immunizations, federal officials have told him there will be an approximately two-week hiatus before more doses can be sent to the states. The first 50,000 doses will be spread among various vaccine providers across the state, including local health departments, hospitals and mass vaccination clinics.

Hogan said the state is improving its efforts to achieve equity in vaccine distribution. So far, white Marylanders have proportionately gotten more vaccine doses than Black residents and other minorities who have disproportionately suffered with illness and death during the pandemic. The governor noted that the Baltimore Convention Center mass vaccination site now will prioritize residents from six city ZIP codes.

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