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Maryland works to open mass coronavirus vaccination sites, even as supply of shots remains frustratingly short

Governor Larry Hogan address the lack of vaccines and the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Maryland soon will open mass vaccination sites, including at the Baltimore Convention Center, even as the state’s severely limited supply of shots hampers immunization efforts with no end to the shortage in sight, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.

Additional chain stores will start offering injections, Hogan also announced, and the home of the Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium, will be tapped as another mass vaccination site once the state starts receiving enough doses to put it to use.

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But Hogan acknowledged the expansion of vaccination sites comes despite a shortage of doses that has left most of those eligible unable to book appointments for the shots. Existing sites, including hospitals and clinics run by local health departments, already are administering far more vaccines — about 18,000 doses a day — than the roughly 10,000 daily doses that the federal government is delivering to Maryland.

Acting state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said Maryland doesn’t yet have enough doses to put mass vaccination sites to full use. But Schrader said opening the clinics is part of building a “robust infrastructure” to administer doses quickly once manufacturers start churning out more doses and deliveries pick up.

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Hogan urged Maryland residents to be patient and expressed hope that bottlenecks in the supply chain might ease soon, although he offered no guarantees.

“I know this is really frustrating,” Hogan said. “We have 100,000 doses. We have 2 million people who want to make an appointment.”

At least six mass vaccination sites are in the works, Hogan said. Sites at the Baltimore Convention Center and at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County should begin administering shots by Feb. 5, while other sites won’t open until more doses are available, the Republican governor said.

The University of Maryland Medical System is partnering with the state to run the convention center and Ravens stadium sites. The Six Flags site will be set up as a drive-thru and run in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, according to Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci.

State officials are finalizing plans for the other sites in Southern and Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

The governor also announced that the state’s network of pharmacy vaccinators will grow next week to include Safeway and Rite Aid locations, bringing the number of pharmacies providing shots statewide to 51. Shots are available already at certain Giant, Martin’s and Walmart stores.

Drugmakers are working to ramp up production and manufacturers of additional vaccines could apply for regulatory approval in the coming weeks.

Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced Tuesday evening a roughly 16% boost in deliveries to states over the coming weeks.

“So, we get instead of 10,000 a day, we get another 1,000 a day. We’re doing 18,000 a day, so that’s not going to make much of a difference at all,” Hogan said at his news conference, anticipating Biden’s speech.

“We appreciate the administration stating that it will provide states with slightly higher allocations for the next few weeks, but we are going to need much more supply,” Hogan said later in a statement. “I urge President Biden to take every imaginable step within his power to ramp up production without delay.”

Officials estimate 2 million to 3 million shots are needed to immunize everyone currently eligible in Maryland to receive the vaccine. At the current pace of deliveries, it could take months before Maryland receives enough doses to vaccinate just those people. They include Marylanders over 65, teachers, clergy, front-line judiciary staff and some essential workers.

Questioned several times by reporters about the frustrations of people seeking vaccines and whether the state should have opened up eligibility to so many people at this time, Hogan said he was responding to the “pleas” of the outgoing Trump administration, the incoming Biden administration and Maryland county leaders, among others.

Hogan described setting eligibility guidelines as balancing potentially long waiting lists against earlier situations in which some top priority recipients at hospitals and nursing homes declined to be inoculated.

“We’re trying to get it right,” Hogan said. “We don’t know exactly how many people are going to take it, we don’t have enough for everybody that’s (eligible). We can’t have them going bad on the shelf, but we don’t want to run out either.”

Hogan pointed to potential approval of a vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, which is in the final phase of its clinical trial, as a welcome boost. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves that vaccine, millions of additional doses could become available, some of which would be produced in Baltimore by Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions Inc.

Until then, Hogan said, the state can only prepare to distribute and administer more doses once they’re available.

There are currently two vaccines approved for use in the United States, one from Moderna and another a joint venture of Pfizer and BioNTech.

“There’s only two companies,” Hogan said. “They just can’t make them fast enough.”

To help set up mass vaccination sites, Hogan said he was reassigning hundreds of members of the Maryland National Guard from security duties in Washington, D.C.

“I am committed to activating as many members of the National Guard as are needed” to complete the “critical, lifesaving mission” of vaccination, Hogan said.

The governor also announced that severely immunocompromised people, such as those receiving treatment for cancer, will become eligible for vaccines beginning Feb. 1.

The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that the rollout is not yet reaching communities of color that have been hit hardest by the virus. Some lawmakers and public health officials were worried because preliminary data for the rollout showed some minorities are receiving shots at disproportionately slow rates.

Hogan said Tuesday that the state is analyzing data, modeling and input from local officials to choose pharmacies in underserved areas to begin administering vaccines, and he said Rite Aid would have mobile vaccination clinics to help address the challenge.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 396,661 doses of the vaccine had been injected into the arms of people in Maryland.

Some hospital systems and local health departments have said they couldn’t start immunizing the latest group of people because they need to save shots to administer second doses to health care workers, first responders and others who have received a first dose. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines call for a pair of doses spaced three or four weeks apart to achieve maximum immunity.

Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation issued a statement Tuesday after a conference call with Schrader, demanding state officials address the disparity in the rollout. The delegation also urged Hogan and other state leaders to provide more clear guidance, citing “concern, confusion and frustration among their constituents.”

“The state must provide more clear, accessible, and transparent information to Marylanders about the vaccine distribution system and work collaboratively with county and local jurisdictions to ensure that Marylanders can access the COVID-19 vaccine in a fair and timely manner,” the statement released by U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office said. “To that end, we urge the state to put forward an effective strategy to tackle the current distribution challenges and disparities in access.”

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Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn, Hallie Miller and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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