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How to fix Maryland’s failed vaccination system | READER COMMENTARY

People with vaccine appointments move through lanes in the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. February 24, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)
People with vaccine appointments move through lanes in the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. February 24, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun) (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Largely unable to get a vaccine from our local health departments, eligible Marylanders are spending hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months searching for appointments that never seem to be available. We are up all hours of the night, refreshing 10 or 15 registration websites, hoping to spot one open appointment. We are spending hours at a time on hold to finally talk to a real person, whose message is “sorry, there are no appointments available.”

Through this, Marylanders have come together to help our neighbors, to help strangers, to help those in need, as highlighted in “Meet the Maryland COVID vaccine hunters, a Facebook group that has helped many navigate appointment process” (Feb. 19). Through this group, eligible individuals plead for help, desperate enough to give personal information to strangers who promise they will find a vaccine, willing to drive across the state (twice) to get this precious vaccine. Caring Marylanders come through for each other, spending sleepless nights helping people that we have never met.

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It’s a beautiful expression of our “togetherness” in this pandemic. But it’s also repulsive and unforgivable. It’s failure.

Marylanders should not have to depend on the kindness of strangers to gain access to this vital resource. Marylanders deserve to trust that our government, the leaders that we elect and support, will take care of us through this crisis. All of us. All of Maryland.

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This system is not efficient. It is not sustainable. Worst of all, it is not equitable. This system works for those of us fortunate to have the time to stalk appointment openings online and on the phone, the ability to drop everything instantly when new appointment openings are announced, and reliable transportation to drive across the state to whichever vaccine provider has availability.

Marylanders without these luxuries of time, tech access and tech savvy, or reliable long-distance transportation are almost entirely excluded from any opportunity to register for appointments.

Further, because many of the more fortunate are able to travel to other cities or other counties, the vaccines that are allocated to the most at-risk communities through private providers and pharmacies are unlikely to be administered within that local community. Rather, they are administered to whomever had the quickest fingers when the appointment availability is posted, regardless of where they live in the state.

We need a more orderly vaccination plan, under which local health departments are empowered to lead the distribution within their communities, to administer the vaccines more efficiently, more orderly and more equitably. Instead of reducing our local health departments’ allocations to promote this every-Marylander-for-themselves free-for-all, we should be equipping our health departments to drive the process so the most at-risk — the most in need of help — can access the vaccine.

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We need a single point of contact, a single point of scheduling, and Marylanders deserve to know that someone is in charge rather than turning to 30,000 strangers on the internet.

We have made it through a year of this pandemic together. Why are we failing Maryland when it matters most?

Diana Page Connolly, Ellicott City

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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