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Gov. Hogan and the COVID vaccine blame game | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan discusses coronavirus vaccinations during a State House news conference in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan discusses coronavirus vaccinations during a State House news conference in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Gov. Larry Hogan says he doesn’t want to blame anyone for the slow rollout of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program. At one point, Maryland was ranked dead last in getting people the shots to protect against the deadly coronavirus. Not a good look for a state that’s home to one of the top medical systems in the world, the National Institutes of Health and many individual leaders in COVID research. While Mr. Hogan doesn’t want to point fingers, somebody needs to be held accountable for making sure as many people as possible are getting vaccinated. It’s a matter of saving lives, and ultimately the buck stops at the top.

We suspect Mr. Hogan, who was slow to react to concerns, knows this and that it contributed to the revamped rollout plan he revealed Tuesday. We would bet it also played a part in his calling the CEOs of Walgreen’s and CVS to probe them about their slow response in administering nursing home vaccinations.

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To be fair, the whole country is struggling to get people vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible, and governments and health officials have become on-the-job learners. It also doesn’t help that there is little guidance from the Trump administration — no national plan. That is why state leadership is so important. The same issue cropped up as the country was trying to ramp up testing when coronavirus first began spreading in a major way last spring. At first a test was hard to come by for the average person, but since then the volume of people getting tested has steadily climbed. That was a vitally important development, since so many asymptomatic people carry and pass along the virus. If everything falls into place, the vaccine numbers will start to improve as well as the kinks are worked out over time.

In the meantime, the Hogan administration rightfully, if belatedly, recognized the need to speed things up; the newest plan, which includes beefed-up accountability measures and prioritizes those most vulnerable to COVID, could go a long way in doing that. For one, Governor Hogan is requiring vaccine providers to report data within 24 hours to identify clogs in the pipeline early. Hospitals, pharmacies, contractors and health departments risk losing vaccines that they don’t use in a timely manner — an incentive to stop vaccines from sitting in freezers when people need them. The National Guard will help overstressed health departments administer the vaccine in hopes of getting to more people. The state also has identified 700 retired health and medical workers to administer vaccines so that clinics can operate seven days a week.

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We also give a thumbs-up to the governor’s decision to move up some at-risk groups in the vaccination process because it could help save lives. Developmentally disabled people and residents of special needs groups homes, who are more likely to die from the coronavirus, will get shots in the first phase, as will high risk inmates, who live in close quarters where COVID can easily spread. Child care workers, teachers and education staff were also moved higher up the list. With that, the hope is that kids will soon be able to get back to in-school learning and disrupt the growing education gap and mental health crisis created by virtual learning. The essential workers that risk their lives to make sure life is as normal as possible for the rest of us — those who work in grocery stores, public transit, agricultural and manufacturing jobs — have also been prioritized for vaccination.

Even with the updates, only 30% of Marylanders will likely get shots by May, however, a number that doesn’t get us to the herd immunity needed to stop the spread. We can only hope that prediction will change as more vaccines from other companies come online. We urge the state to continue looking at ways to get more people vaccinated, understanding they are restricted some because the federal government decides how much vaccine Maryland will get. One possibility is mass vaccination sites, where as many people as possible are given shots. Cities in other states are starting to use this tactic.

We don’t want to spend time on the blame game, either. But we do want to make sure that the state knows who is responsible for what in moving vaccination forward. It is our best hope for recovery economically, socially and physically from this ravaging disease. The priority must be building a process that maintains the trust of an already skeptical public and reaches as many people as possible. And every resource must be used, which wasn’t the case last week. So instead of blame, governor, we congratulate you for taking decisive action, and respectfully request that, should the state fall behind again, you intervene immediately.

This piece is written by The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board. Editorials are the opinion of the Board, which is separate from the newsroom. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor, please send it to talkback@baltimoresun.com.

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