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Maryland announces plan for equitable vaccine distribution

March 2, 2021 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland officials announced a plan Monday to improve equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Baltimore amid continuing criticism about the state’s rollout, particularly in the state’s largest city.

The Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital — a public-private partnership of the state health department, the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine — will put an emphasis on vaccinating the most vulnerable communities in Baltimore, Gov. Larry Hogan’s office announced.

“This pilot is a demonstration of the commitment to get the equity equation right — the state, our local partners, and the community finding the answer together,” said Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead, of the Maryland National Guard, who heads the state’s equity task force. “It’s one more step in the right direction to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.”

Leadership at the field hospital as been working closely with hospital-based community health teams to encourage eligible individuals who live in high-vulnerability ZIP codes to register for vaccination, the governor’s office said. As the M&T Bank Stadium mass vaccination site opened last week, the program will focus on vaccinating people who live in those ZIP codes in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers on a panel that is holding weekly hearings on Maryland’s vaccine rollout continued to ask questions about the rollout and criticize aspects of it.

Sen. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat, asked Maryland’s acting health secretary, Dennis Schrader, about a comment the governor made last week that Baltimore had received more vaccine than the city was “entitled to.” Hogan made the comment while visiting a new mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday, after a reporter asked about Mayor Brandon Scott’s request that a certain percentage of vaccines at the site be reserved for city residents.

Washington asked Schrader on Monday how he planned to address “the negative damage” caused by the comment that outraged city officials.

Schrader said he was focused on the new approach announced Monday to go into the “hardest-hit ZIP codes in Baltimore.” He said she was asking him a political question, and he was staying focused “on process and facts.”

“I don’t think I can answer your question,” Schrader said.

Washington said her question wasn’t a political one.

“I would suggest that if language and discourse like this continues from the top that it is actually undermining your activities, your efforts to build confidence in the community,” Washington said.

The state also announced on Monday that it has been allocated nearly 50,000 doses of the J&J vaccine against COVID-19. About 49,600 doses of the newly approved one-shot vaccine will be deployed to providers this week.

This is the third vaccine granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Maryland health officials will direct the Johnson & Johnson vaccine allocation to mass vaccination sites, hospitals, local health departments and community health centers. In addition, the J& J vaccine will be deployed to pharmacies that the federal government has selected to participate in its retail pharmacy partnership.

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The Hogan administration said the federal government has stated that future allocations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be uneven and could be smaller than this week’s allocation.