Maryland will allocate nearly 50,000 doses of the newly authorized, single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week to vaccine providers, Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday.
The vaccine has been described by scientists and public health professionals as both safe and effective. The company reports its vaccine, which is being made in an East Baltimore plant, is 85% effective in preventing severe illness caused by the virus, and completely effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalization and death.
Hogan, in a statement, said health officials would send doses “into the community right away.”
The governor’s office announced in a news release that state health officials will direct the vaccine to mass vaccination sites, hospitals, local health departments and community health centers. It also will be used by federal government pharmacy partners.
Dennis R. Schrader, the state acting health secretary, later said about 55% of the initial Johnson & Johnson allotment would go to the mass vaccination sites at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and at Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County, which opens later this month.
Some 10,000 doses would support the local health departments, Schrader said, and the rest would go to hospitals and federally qualified health centers.
“The White House and the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have asked us to spread these doses across. They don’t want us targeting specific populations,” Schrader said during a state Senate vaccine oversight committee meeting Monday afternoon. “We are honoring that request.”
But some senators pushed back on that plan, citing data that shows inequitable distribution among Maryland’s minority groups compared with white residents, and uneven vaccine administration in certain counties relative to others.
“I would urge you to consider targeting them,” said state Sen. Clarence Lam, a physician and Democrat who represents Baltimore and Howard counties. “It is only a single-dose vaccine. So it may be easier to target it to harder-to-reach populations, if there is risk that they won’t be able to show up for their second dose.”
Schrader said the Maryland Department of Health would wait until the CDC issued more clinical guidance related to the distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson’s product joins two other vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States, but it is the first to use a single-dose regimen. The U.S. vaccine rollout has been marked by a national supply shortage, which the Johnson & Johnson immunization could help alleviate.
The governor’s office noted that the federal allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine may differ from week to week, which means the next allocation to Maryland could be significantly larger or smaller. Johnson & Johnson shipped out its entire inventory, according to Hogan’s office.
The company contracted with Emergent BioSolutions to produce tens of millions of doses of the vaccine in its East Baltimore plant.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott asked Johnson & Johnson in a letter last month to tap that stock and directly sell the city 300,000 doses, enough to cover half the population. Scott, a Democrat, said those requests have gone unanswered.
“Nice try,” Gov. Larry Hogan about Scott’s letter during a visit last month to the city’s mass vaccination site at the Baltimore Convention Center.
“Everybody would like to jump to the front of the line, but it’s not going to happen,” the Republican governor said.
Then, during a visit last week to the newly opened mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, Hogan said Baltimore had received “far more [doses] than they were really entitled to.”
The comment elicited outrage from city leaders as the city lags behind most other jurisdictions in per capita vaccinations.
Hogan’s office announced Monday that officials at the Baltimore Convention Center mass vaccination clinic would prioritize people from “underserved” areas of the city for shots, giving preference to residents from six ZIP codes: 21215, 21216, 21217, 21213, 21218 and 21205.
The site also will undertake “aggressive community engagement” to reach at-risk populations; refine “technology tools” to reach specific populations; and “increase public efforts” to encourage people to get vaccinated, officials said in an announcement.
“We are going to be pushing a lot of vaccine through the convention center,” Schrader told state senators Monday.
He declined to comment on Hogan’s comments, despite a series of questions from Sen. Mary Washington, who represents Baltimore.
“Words really matter and the fact that our governor would engage in language that is, quite frankly, tone-deaf ... is divisive,” Washington said. “Baltimore City has had more than its fair share. It’s had more than its fair share of hospitalizations. We’ve had more than our fair share of deaths. We’ve had more than our fair share of infections.
“We also need to not engage in this dangerous rhetoric of attempting to pit other jurisdictions against each other.”
Meanwhile, state data presented at the meeting showed Marylanders from Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Howard counties claiming most of the initial appointments at the mass vaccination site at Six Flags America, located in Prince George’s County, which lags behind the rest of the state in per capita vaccination of its residents. Of the nearly 32,000 appointments that have taken place, more than 20,000 have been secured by people from those three counties, according to the state.
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Lawmakers said those figures underscore the vaccine rollout’s inequities, which prioritizes people with cars, internet access and digital skills rather than people from rural and low-income communities.
“Who’s making the decisions, and how and why, and what’s the transparency, and who is explaining what is happening? Because I don’t know,” said state Sen. Ronald Young, a Democrat who represents Frederick County. “And I’m getting all kinds of calls from the public, and I don’t know what to tell them.”
The state has entered into an emergency contract with Ernst & Young, an international consulting firm, to help manage its vaccine rollout, according to state officials.
The $3.79 million, 90-day contract uses federal COVID-19 relief funds, and has two 90-day renewal options. Officials said the company assists with managing the first- and second-dose supply chain schedule, making improvements to the state’s mass vaccination sites, and providing support with data.
“An initial deliverable, with immediate results, has been the vendor’s work in assisting Maryland with a better understanding of the federal vaccine allocation planning and distribution process,” health officials wrote in a memo sent to Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, and the vaccine oversight committee members.
Schrader said additional contract details would be provided to the Maryland Board of Public Works in the coming days.
Schrader meets every Monday with the Maryland Senate’s Vaccine Oversight Workgroup to monitor the state’s vaccination operations. Ferguson, the committee’s chair, has said the information from the meetings will guide senators as they decide whether to confirm Schrader as state health secretary.