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Here’s what Hogan doesn’t get about vaccine distribution in Baltimore: It’s not about ‘entitlement’ | COMMENTARY

January 29 -- Shirley Creek, 83, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from Kelli McCallum, CRNP, during a MedStar mobile vaccine clinic at Cherry Hill Senior Manor Friday morning.
January 29 -- Shirley Creek, 83, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from Kelli McCallum, CRNP, during a MedStar mobile vaccine clinic at Cherry Hill Senior Manor Friday morning. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Warning signs are everywhere: The state’s methodology behind vaccine distribution is leaving Maryland’s Black and brown residents to die at disproportionately high rates when an equitable rollout could save lives in this group of people proven to be most in danger.

The data is telling us this with absolute clarity: White Marylanders have received more than four times as many doses as Black residents — yet we know Black residents are dying at an alarming rate.

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This should stop Gov. Larry Hogan in his tracks. But when the governor said Baltimore had been given more vaccine doses than city residents were “entitled” to receive, it was a revealing indication of the problem. See, what the governor must not understand is that equity has nothing to do with entitlement.

Baltimore City is not looking for special treatment, as the governor implied last week with coded language that leaves no question as to where he stands. This is not about entitlement. This is about who gets the lifesaving vaccine and who does not.

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Equity is about using the data to determine where the virus is causing the most harm and then urgently intervening with resources. It’s about asking who is most likely to die if they don’t get the vaccine, and creating a plan to get them an injection.

Data is king, particularly in a crisis when you are trying to solve a problem as consequential as an infectious disease that is proven to be killing Black and brown people at high rates.

I’ve implored Governor Hogan throughout the pandemic to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time based) in Maryland’s response. I persuaded him last spring to start tracking the spread of the virus using facts and figures to stop its deadly path. It was only when it was politically advantageous that he took action.

Now, a year into this crisis, we are witnessing from our state leadership a vaccine rollout plan that is telling our most vulnerable residents to move to the back. Maryland’s plan for distributing the vaccine has given every opportunity to the more affluent to snatch up appointments the second they become available, no matter where they live in the state or whether their medical needs dictate their claim to a dose.

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Too many are attributing the lopsided numbers to the mistaken belief that Black people are running scared from the vaccine because of the history of the medical system in this country abusing us in the name of science.

Are some of us hesitant to get the vaccine because of our history? Yes, of course. As a son of Tuskegee, I know this too well. We cannot afford to dismiss the deliberate pattern of inequities with a deadly rush to judgment. The desperate calls and emails coming into my office from Black people in Baltimore are proof that we are nowhere close to meeting demand.

What is actually at work is a bottleneck created by the flawed rollout that leaves access up to savvy vaccine hunters who are quick with the mouse and have the ability to drive anywhere they find an appointment.

Our state must develop policies for universal data collection, as we lean on the vaccine equity task force to steer our state through this crisis. I first urged Governor Hogan to create this work group almost a year ago, and now that we finally have one, it needs access to a centralized repository of all the data we can humanely gather related to the coronavirus. The task force must analyze the data and use it to rapidly guide our state to the other side of the crisis.

What’s more, the governor must immediately stop counting the vaccines distributed to hospitals as part of the city’s allotment. Baltimore is a health care hub, filled with patients from around the state. His vaccine distribution plan puts emphasis on their well-being above that of city’s residents, who are majority Black, often with underlying health conditions.

To course correct, Governor Hogan also needs to direct the majority of the doses he is providing to Baltimore’s mass vaccination sites at M&T Bank Stadium and the Convention Center to city residents.

Maryland has every opportunity to lead our nation in a coronavirus recovery rooted in righteousness that overturns the inequities that created the health disparities our Black and brown communities have endured in the first place.

What our residents are entitled to is equal protection and a governing system that in practice upholds the tenets to which we continue to aspire.

Nick J. Mosby (CouncilPresident@Baltimorecity.gov) is president of the Baltimore City Council.

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