Maryland is speeding up its vaccination timeline, following the lead of other states and recommendations from federal officials as the surge of deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. associated with COVID-19 continues.
As of Monday, hospitalized people with certain medical conditions placing them at greater risk of a severe COVID-19 case are eligible for vaccination.
But as the list of eligible populations expands, many Marylanders are reporting struggles finding appointments.
Here’s what you need to know:
Are we still in Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout?
Yes, but it doesn’t have to be completely finished for the state to move on to Phase 2. Currently, Maryland is in Phase 1C, which includes anyone age 65 and older, along with essential workers in lab services, agriculture, manufacturing, grocery stores, public transit and the postal service.
But not every county is in 1C yet. When the state expanded to Phase 1C on Jan. 25, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties, as well as Baltimore City, did not start vaccinating that group because of the scarcity of available doses.
The state kicked things off with Phase 1A, which opened the door for health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders and public safety and corrections officers.
Next came Phase 1B, which opened up vaccinations to people 75 and older, along with high-risk inmates, teachers, people living in special needs group homes, assisted living residents, and and vaccines for people involved in “continuity of government.”
The full list of eligible groups can be found here.
A limited number of pharmacies in Giant, Martin’s and Walmart stores started offering the vaccine on Jan. 25 as part of a pilot program. More pharmacies are expected to come online as the vaccine supply expands.
Already, the state had been working with CVS and Walgreens to inoculate nursing home residents. Local hospitals and health departments have been administering many of the early shots for other groups.
The state is also working to set up mass vaccination sites, including at the Baltimore Convention Center and M&T Bank Stadium.
“We want to stress to all the vaccination providers that as part of our, what we call a Southwest Airlines distribution model, they do not need to finish all of the people in one group before moving on to the next one. Our primary goal is for them to get more shots into the arms of more people in our vulnerable populations as quickly as they can,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference.
Maryland’s expedited timeline follows other states’ plans and recommendations from federal officials to get every available shot deployed as the U.S. surge of deaths and hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 worsens. Previously, states were holding back on administering a portion of vaccines so they could save them for second doses.
When will I get vaccinated if I don’t fall into those categories in Phase 1?
As of now, Phase 2 will include people 16-64 with increased health risks, prisoners and essential workers in fields such as utilities and transportation, but there is no timeline for when the state might begin the phase. A total of 1.1 million Marylanders are in this group.
Hogan said about 30% of the state will be vaccinated by May, but younger and healthier people could wait until the summer or later.
Maryland residents who think they are eligible can now enter their information into covidvax.maryland.gov to find vaccination clinics in their area.
How will I know when it’s my turn?
Marylanders can sign up for 211 text alerts. To opt in to receive these alerts, text ‘MdReady’ to 898-211. People can also visit the state’s coronavirus site to review more information.
People who think they are eligible can also visit the state’s website and find the vaccine clinic nearest to them. To sign up, you’ll have to verify your information with the clinic, though it’s not immediately clear how rigorous that vetting process will be. You can also visit the sites for your county health department or your health provider.
How much of the vaccine has already been distributed?
Statewide implementation has been slower than expected, raising alarms among local leaders.
As of Sunday Jan. 31, 7.4% of Marylanders — 448,499 people — had received at least one of the two required vaccine doses. That’s just behind the national percentage of 7.6%, according to the New York Times vaccination tracker. Maryland has lagged further behind when it comes to distributing its allotment of vaccine doses from the federal government. It had administered 57% of its stock as of Sunday, according to The Times, placing it in the lower third of states.
Experts have cited insufficient central planning in attempts to explain Maryland’s predicament. It’s left many Marylanders newly eligible for shots scrambling to find appointments on a confusing array of websites run by their state, their county, or their health providers. Seniors, in particular, have grappled with registration difficulties online.
Leaders have also flagged concerns about racial disparities in the vaccine rollout so far. Despite making up about 31% of Maryland’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black people have received about 15% of all the first doses administered in the state as of Sunday. And despite making up about 11% of the population, Hispanic Marylanders have received about 3.7% of the shots so far. Those percentages have decreased slightly since last week.
Experts say an underrepresentation of these groups in health care fields could be to blame, alongside longstanding trepidation as a result of mistreatment in the medical world.
Last week, Maryland officials unveiled an advertising campaign called “GoVax” which has a focus on encouraging people of color to get the vaccine. The effort to encourage underserved communities to get vaccines has been championed by local community leaders.
Baltimore Sun reporters Christine Condon, Pamela Wood and Bryn Stole contributed to this article.