Baltimore Sun: Md. counties scramble to coordinate COVID-19 vaccinations as demand soars: ‘We’re trying to figure it out as we go’

Vaccine Newsmaker panelists

By Hallie Miller and Alex Mann
January 20, 2020

In the absence of clear directives from the state, and sufficient resources from the federal government, Maryland county health officials are scrambling to set up vaccination appointments for residents after Gov. Larry Hogan expanded eligibility requirements to include senior citizens, educators and others.

As a shortage of supplies and vaccinators threatens to stall the national vaccination campaign, Maryland officials are urging patience. But the vaccines — exceeding expectations in their effectiveness — have become critical amid the latest surge of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of daily new cases, fatalities and total patients hospitalized continuing to set records this month.

With vaccine hesitancy — an unwillingness to get inoculated — posing less of a problem than originally expected, public health professionals and state officials said they must work to overcome the crippling “last mile” — getting the shots in arms.

“How we get ourselves back to ‘normal’ is to get as many people vaccinated as we can,” said Dr. Anna Durbin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, during a virtual event Jan. 19 hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Dr. Durbin said two more vaccine candidates could receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by mid-February, which could flood the supply chain with more product streams and ease the ongoing strains. She said she expects all vaccine candidates to offer similar levels of efficacy when they come online.

Until then, top state lawmakers said they will continue to press for progress, with the Maryland Senate planning to hold weekly meetings with state health officials.

In Maryland, some 265,657 people had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Tuesday, representing less than half of the total number of vaccines distributed statewide, according to state health department data. Hampered by budget constraints, staffing deficits and capacity limitations, allocation has moved slower than anticipated across the country.

Many providers also were holding back on doses to be sure they had enough for a required second dose of the two available vaccines.

Maryland Department of Health spokesman Charles Gischlar said in an email that the federal government is distributing about 10,000 doses per day to the state. About 1.5 million residents are now eligible for vaccines, he said.

At that rate it would take 150 days — until mid-June — to give everyone a single-dose, never mind the needed second dose to achieve the best immunity. Officials do hope that the supply continues to expand rapidly and it will take less time to inoculate those eligible.

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