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Maryland Department of Health sets goal of 100,000 shots per day as more COVID vaccine is due

Maryland health officials have set a goal of administering as many as 100,000 shots per day as COVID-19 vaccine production scales up and more people become eligible.

The state’s acting health secretary, Dennis R. Schrader, said the Maryland Department of Health has been driving steadily toward that bench mark, reaching as many as 57,550 vaccinations in a single day last week.

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But he also acknowledged that the supply of vaccine would outpace demand soon, requiring health officials to employ more aggressive outreach and engagement strategies to get shots into arms. Some estimates call for 80% of the country or more to get vaccinated to abate the coronavirus pandemic, a figure that includes those who are still being studied in clinical trials, such as children and pregnant women.

“When those doses come, we’re ready to go. That’s why we’ve been building the infrastructure,” Schrader said Monday afternoon during a virtual Vaccine Oversight Workgroup meeting with state lawmakers. “But it’s not just pushing out tens of thousands [of doses]. We’re going to have to pull people. That’s why this microtargeting strategy is so critical.”

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Over the past month, Maryland officials have ramped up a state-run equity task force designed to ensure the vaccine gets to the hardest-to-reach populations, many of whom lack access to vaccine appointments and preregistration portals. Gov. Larry Hogan also announced a grant program with hospitals to run more community-based clinics, as well as a partnership with a number of primary care providers throughout the state.

Maryland health officials also have increased the share of doses allocated to local health departments through at least mid-April.

Maryland’s local health agencies have seen their immunization allotment grow 54% overall since the week of Feb. 8, the state announced Monday. Some departments can expect tens of thousands of shots to arrive over the next four weeks. Others have had their shares plateau in the low hundreds.

The state now allocates vaccines to local health departments on a “pro rata” basis, with more populous counties generally receiving more inventory than less densely populated jurisdictions. Maryland officials also reserved the right to send more vaccines to highly efficient vaccinators and decrease the allocation to providers who lag behind, though officials have not said whether that’s resulted in counties being rewarded or sanctioned.

Local health department leaders and the state have sparred in recent weeks as the state opens more vaccine clinics and reduces the overall share allocated to the health agencies. County health officers and executives argue that they know their communities best, and know the best strategies to inoculate their most at-risk and hardest-to-reach populations.

Schrader said the local agencies play a critical role in ensuring equitable access to vaccines.

But on Monday, lawmakers questioned how the state would maintain its focus on older adults and people without computers or digital skills as it expands eligibility for vaccine appointments.

“We’re moving to Phase 2, and I’m really concerned,” said state Sen. Mary Washington, who represents Baltimore. “The vaccination system that’s developed has been supporting white, affluent, tech-savvy, working-from-home Marylanders — [they] are getting their vaccines first.

“We haven’t really doubled down on making sure our 75-plus populations are adequately vaccinated.”

Schrader again emphasized a “push” toward community-based programs, promising not to “leave anyone behind.” He said state health officials will continue to analyze troubling trends, such as the decline in older adults getting vaccinated and the low vaccination rates in Prince George’s County and others.

Montgomery County’s health department led the state’s 24 jurisdictions in vaccine allocation numbers, with 8,000 doses a week expected for the next four weeks. Prince George’s County followed with 6,900 doses projected to arrive each week through mid-April, with Baltimore County’s 6,300-a-week allotment close behind.

Montgomery County officials have lobbied the Hogan administration to open a mass vaccination clinic there, calling it a centrally located access point for much of the state. Hogan told reporters at a news conference this month that the state had entered into discussions with several counties about opening mass vaccination centers, Montgomery among them.

Schrader said more information about the next vaccination centers would come as soon as this week.

Meanwhile, residents of Montgomery County have been accessing the mass vaccination clinics located elsewhere in the state at high volumes. They account for 33.3% of the doses administered at the Six Flags America mass vaccination site in Prince George’s County; 33.4% of the doses at Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County; 17.6% of the doses at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore; and 7.2% of the shots at the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, which has placed an emphasis on vaccinating city residents.

Maryland Department of Health spokesman Charles Gischlar said the state’s one-stop preregistration system will help prioritize appointments for the most vulnerable, based on age, race, ethnicity, location and underlying conditions. He said 142,691 people already have signed up in the state’s system.

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