While Maryland seniors, teachers and others fill out forms and make calls in search of coronavirus vaccine appointments, state lawmakers are able to get their shots in a private vaccination clinic in Annapolis.
It’s not clear how many of the Maryland General Assembly’s 188 lawmakers have gotten or will get shots in the clinic set up in the Miller Senate Office Building.
Lawmakers and their key staff were included in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine eligibility program, as they are considered as needed for “continuity of government.” And some members would be eligible now for other reasons, including their age or certain medical conditions.
The state is currently in Phase 1C of eligibility, which includes anyone 65 or older, along with certain categories of workers and health conditions — though appointments can be hard to find for those seeking the vaccine.
More than 2 million Marylanders are currently eligible for the vaccine, but only 850,000 doses have been sent to the state. Both vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. require two doses.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, 37, who describes himself as healthy, said he struggled with whether to get the vaccine before ultimately getting the shot.
“I think it was the right decision,” the Baltimore Democrat told reporters when asked Friday.
Ferguson stressed that lawmakers are following guidance from federal and state health officials that allows for elected officials to get the vaccine.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Black woman who is 66, got her first vaccine shot this week. The Baltimore County Democrat recorded a video to post on social media to inspire confidence in the vaccine among people of color.
“The speaker feels it’s really important for Black and brown communities in the state of Maryland to have confidence in the efficacy of the vaccine. If she can help encourage people to get the vaccine, she’s happy to be an example,” said her chief of staff, Alexandra Hughes.
A majority of lawmakers must to be present in Annapolis to meet their constitutional obligation to pass the governor’s budget. And if they intend to pass any other legislation — such as financial aid for struggling Marylanders or policing reform — they have to meet in person.
So, vaccinations are among the steps to keep lawmakers healthy during their 90-day session, along with physical distancing, regular testing and required mask wearing, legislative officials said.
“Once Gov. (Larry) Hogan made us aware that the legislature was included in Phase 1B, the speaker felt it was important to make vaccinations available to members to ensure they could complete their work,” Hughes said.
Neither the Senate president nor the House speaker is requiring lawmakers to be vaccinated.
Some lawmakers had already started the vaccination process through their local health departments, posting pictures on social media to encourage vaccination.
Warren Miller, who served as a Republican state delegate until December, said it’s been difficult to watch lawmakers get their shots when many people — including his parents — are still waiting their turn. On one hand, he said, politicians can inspire confidence that the vaccine is safe. But on the other hand, they can look like they’re jumping ahead of others.
“There are lots of Marylanders waiting in line right now that aren’t able to get the vaccine,” said Miller, a Republican who represented Howard and Carroll counties. “That’s not a great look.”
The government vaccination clinic in Annapolis also has administered shots to top officials, according to photos posted online by the Republican governor’s office: Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot, Democratic Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh and Dennis Schrader, the acting state health secretary and a former Republican member of the Howard County Council.
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Others receiving the shot in Annapolis include former Democratic senators Nathaniel McFadden and Larry Young, according to photos posted by Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. Young is now a talk show host on WOLB-AM in Baltimore.
All told, 220 people received their first dose at the Annapolis clinic this week, according to the Maryland Department of Health. No more first-dose clinics are planned, and second-dose clinics are scheduled for the end of February.
Department of Health officials said vaccinating “community leaders” like Young can help instill public confidence in the vaccine.
Rutherford and Hogan and their spouses received their first doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine during a news conference on Jan. 18.
The rollout of Maryland’s vaccine program has been uneven and frustrating to many seeking to be vaccinated. There’s a patchwork of options to get the shot — hospitals, local health departments, some pharmacies — with no centralized system to register for appointments.
And doses of the shot have only trickled in to Maryland from the federal government. While not all the doses received in the state have gone into people’s arms, the state’s rate of vaccine administration has increased. Hogan has warned that demand may soon outstrip supply if the federal government doesn’t increase deliveries to the state.
Lawmakers have been pressing Hogan’s administration to improve the vaccination program. Senators have held up the confirmation of Schrader as health secretary, requiring him to provide weekly updates on vaccinations. And the House is planning an oversight hearing on the program next week.