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Anne Arundel executive urges Gov. Larry Hogan to provide better vaccine coordination

Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman said he spoke one-on-one with Gov. Larry Hogan for the first time in two years on Thursday to discuss the mass vaccination plan and what the best role will be for local health departments.

Though Pittman said he would have liked to see a coordinated statewide approach to vaccine preregistration, he acknowledged that it’s probably too late. Instead, he said he told Hogan that local health departments need to be aware of which private sector pharmacies are receiving doses and how many they are getting, so they can coordinate to best serve the residents of the county.

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Pittman said he learned from the governor that two Giant locations in Anne Arundel had received 400 doses of the vaccine each and that more clarity on where doses are being allocated will allow for a coordinated response. One Giant was in Annapolis and the other was in Glen Burnie.

At least 100,000 people have preregistered on Anne Arundel County’s website, but Pittman said the lack of a centralized system prevents the county from knowing whether any of those residents already have received a vaccine elsewhere, or if they are registered on multiple lists.

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Pittman said he was joined on the call by Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman and senior advisor Chris Trumbauer and Hogan was joined by top staff and Acting Deputy Secretary of Health Dr. Jinlene Chan.

Hogan’s spokesperson Mike Ricci called the meeting very productive, and said local health departments should have already been able to see which local providers were receiving vaccine doses and how many they are getting.

“When we send out the allocations to providers, the health officers can see which entities are getting allocations, both in the interests of transparency and so that they can coordinate with other providers if they would like,” Ricci wrote in an email to The Capital. “It’s also important to remember that local health department clinics are just one facet of what will be a much broader distribution network that now includes about 40 hospitals and 50 retail pharmacies, and next week will begin to include state-run mass vaccination sites.”

The 30-minute meeting came less than a week after Pittman sounded off on social media when the county’s weekly vaccine allocation was 2,000 less than they’d expected.

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Though Ricci said on Twitter that counties knew from a bulletin that they’d be getting fewer, Pittman said it created a logistical disaster and that they had no indication that the allocation would be so much smaller. They dodged having to cancel vaccine appointments for 2,000 vulnerable Anne Arundel residents by negotiating a transfer with Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Pittman criticized the decision to prioritize private-sector companies when local health departments have scrambled to build capacity with taxpayer money, and would tend first to the most vulnerable residents.

“I asked him to not ask local health departments to stand down when we need them most,” Pittman said. “I support the idea of utilizing private sector providers but only after we have used the capacity we have built with taxpayer money within our health department.”

He said the meeting was productive, but that Hogan did not promise how many vaccines the county would receive in future weeks.

Pittman said he hopes this is the beginning of a better and more direct line of communication with the governor, who he has multiple times criticized for blindsiding local leaders during the pandemic.

“They know we are watching, they know we are paying attention,” Pittman said. “I think they understand that last week’s allocation put our residents in a bind and I don’t believe they will do that again.”

Pittman expects federal funds to flow through Hogan’s office in the near future, including one fund for vaccinations and another for contact tracing, testing and other virus mitigation. He expects Anne Arundel will receive about 10% of each of the state allocations because the residents make up about 10% of the state population.

It’s unclear when the funds will be available to counties, but Pittman requested that when they are, they be in the form of block grants with as little regulatory hoopla as possible.

“I specifically made the request that they don’t fund pharmacy chains with that money. He didn’t answer that part, I just think it would be inappropriate,” Pittman said. “Walmart is doing fine. They don’t need our COVID vaccination funds — we do.”

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