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COVID mass vaccination site to open in Harford by end of April, as agencies tour Ripken Stadium as possibility

Harford County will be home to a COVID-19 mass vaccination site by the end of April, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday, however it was not immediately clear where it would be located.

The announcement comes on the heels of representatives from federal and state agencies visiting Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen over the weekend as Harford County officials continue to make a push to have a mass vaccination site stationed there.

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The Harford County site will be among six new mass vaccination centers opening statewide next month, bringing Maryland’s total to 12. Mass vaccination sites at Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium and at Montgomery College in Germantown will open the week of April 5, and sites in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties will open the week of April 12, Hogan said.

The governor did not offer specific locations or opening dates for sites in Harford and Howard counties, other than to say they would be open by the end of next month.

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Harford County officials have been pushing for a regional clinic at Ripken Stadium since early February, when County Executive Barry Glassman, County Health Officer Dr. David Bishai and County Council President Patrick Vincenti sent a letter to acting secretary of health Dennis R. Schrader encouraging the state to add a clinic there.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency visited the stadium on Sunday, Glassman said. He was told that the agencies would begin the formal process of mapping and evaluating what a mass vaccination site at Ripken Stadium could look like.

It would most likely be a drive-through vaccination clinic, Glassman said, and equipped to handle the 3,000 shots per day the state expects of its mass vaccination sites.

“It does have a good regional location, and I think it has got to have that to draw the kind of numbers they are talking about,” Glassman said.

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Harford County officials are encouraging the state to use Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site. The large parking area was used in 2020 for a drive-thru COVID test center.
Harford County officials are encouraging the state to use Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site. The large parking area was used in 2020 for a drive-thru COVID test center. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Ripken Stadium’s proximity to Interstate 95 and Route 40 would allow Marylanders easy access, county officials have argued. Glassman has spoken about it serving as a regional site for not just Harford but also Cecil, Baltimore and Kent counties.

Lawmakers representing Harford County also got on board, with Democratic Dels. MaryAnn Lisanti and Steve Johnson writing to Schrader earlier this month about using the stadium. Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings also recommended a mass vaccination clinic be opened in Harford County in a letter to Hogan, though he did not specify where.

The vacant Mars supermarket at the Woodbridge Shopping Center, off Route 40 in Edgewood, is the only other site under consideration, Glassman said, although he doesn’t think the parking situation is adequate for the volume of people expected at a mass clinic.

Maryland has five operational mass vaccination sites, with a sixth scheduled to open this week in Hagerstown. The other sites are located at the Baltimore Convention Center, M&T Bank Stadium, the Six Flags amusement park in Prince George’s County, a minor league baseball stadium in Southern Maryland, and at the civic center in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Hogan also announced that Maryland would move into Phase 2B of vaccinations starting March 30, which will include people age 16 and older with disabilities or medical conditions that increase risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

The federal government, Hogan said, has committed to significantly increasing the vaccine supply starting next week and continuing for several months.

Bishai, the county’s health officer, has been critical of the state’s vaccine allocations to local health departments, stating they are well-equipped to get more people vaccinated, but that the state is instead sending vaccine doses to the mass vaccination sites and private pharmacies.

Harford, he said, needed a mass vaccination site in order to increase the rate at which doses are delivered to county residents.

The state had been sending about 1,700 first doses to Harford each week, despite the local health department’s requests for more to help get through its list of preregistered individuals sooner. Although that allocation rose to 1,900 first doses this week, according to the state, Bishai said that the Harford County Health Department could vaccinate more than five times that amount with adequate supply.

“We have identified staff and facilities to deliver 10,000 doses per week,” Bishai said in an email to The Aegis.

In the meantime, the health department will focus on getting older residents and those with underlying medical conditions vaccinated.

More than 21,000 people in the county’s priority 1 category have preregistered with the department but remained unvaccinated as of late last week, Bishai said. About 1,400 of those individuals have medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19.

All preregistered Harford residents over the age of 75 awaiting an appointment were expected to be scheduled by March 31, and the department would start scheduling appointments for people in the 1C group by the last week of the month, according to a post on the Harford health department’s website. The 1C group includes those ages 65 to 74, essential workers and people under 65 with preexisting conditions such as cancer, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, heart conditions and others.

In the same post, the Harford health department encouraged residents to seek vaccines from other providers, noting the state is not going to significantly increase allocations to local health departments because it has chosen to offer more doses at mass vaccination sites, as well as private pharmacies.

Nearly 70,000 Harford County residents, or about 27% of the population, had been vaccinated as of Monday, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health.

While the Harford health department remains the county’s single-largest provider, having provided 25% of all first doses locally since January, the number of places Harford residents have obtained their shots has grown each week and now exceeds 200.

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