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Hogan expands eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations

Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday announced the state was expanding the number of residents eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine shots, said the state’s initially sluggish efforts to distribute vaccines were improving and outlined a series of steps to accelerate the pace of injections.

Starting this week, all health care professionals, law enforcement officers and judiciary staff may receive shots. Later this month, Hogan said, anyone over the age of 75 and those in special needs group homes, high-risk inmates, developmentally disabled populations, continuity of government workers, as well as teachers, child care, and education staff will be able to receive injections.

The governor said the number of vaccinations has picked up. He said the state has distributed 270,150 doses to hospitals, nursing homes and local health departments.

“Everyone is trying to do their best,” Hogan said. “There’s not one particular glitch in the system. ”

The governor painted an optimistic picture, one in which the state will not have doses waiting to be administered.

“We’re going to catch up,”  said Hogan. “We’re going to get to a place where we are saying, ‘we’re out of vaccines.’ I guarantee you it’s going to switch.”

Hogan said Maryland expects to receive about 10,000 doses per day. At that pace, the state could vaccinate roughly 30% of its roughly 6 million people by the end of May.

The actual administration of vaccinations has varied widely once doses have been distributed, Hogan acknowledged. Five counties — Howard, Montgomery, St. Mary’s, Calvert, and Caroline – have used at least 80% of their allocated doses, he said.

Some counties have expressed concerns about the short notice given when vaccines are being made available directly to them.

“That’s the way the process works,” said Hogan. “They can whine about it or they can get to work and do their job.”

Hogan said he was ordering National Guard teams to help local health departments dispense doses. He also said that 700 volunteers through the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps are ready to assist with injections.

Hogan said the state Department of Health has issued an order that any facility which has not administered at least 75% of its total first-dose allocation may have future allocations reduced until it can prove its ability to meet capacity requirements. The governor also announced that the state would move to a rolling system of vaccinations where some areas might move to providing injections to people in other phases rather than holding doses to complete a phase.

And Hogan warned that facilities that sit on vaccines too long could see those doses taken by the state and redistributed to speed up the process and prevent expiration of doses. Hogan said that, despite the warning, there was no deadline for when state officials might show up at a facility to take unused doses.

“We’re not here to try to force people to move at a rate faster than they feel is safe and effective,” said Hogan. “We want them to know that you can’t just sit around forever, because other people are desperately in need of these vaccines, and if you’re not going to use them we’re going to have to figure out something else.”

On Tuesday, Maryland reported a record 11,553 new vaccinations for a cumulative total of 76,916 vaccinations, Hogan said.

Overall, the state has administered just 22.2% of its total allotment. As of Jan. 4, the state had received a combined 345,850 initial doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The reports do not include second doses which are held back until they are to be administered 21 to 28 days later.

Despite the slow rollout, Hogan called for patience.

“This is no time to be pointing fingers,” said Hogan. “This is a massive undertaking.”

Hogan said that 61,425 doses were sent directly through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership to CVS and Walgreens, which have a federal contract to administer vaccines in all 227 of the state’s nursing homes. So far, they have completed 8,503 doses, just 13.8%.

Hogan said he has spoken with the CEOs of CVS and Walgreens, who have assured them that their rate of vaccination is improving. The leaders of both corporations said they have provided more vaccinations than what has been reported and that there is a lag in entering data into the system.

Under a federal contract, both are required to report vaccinations within 72 hours. Hogan issued an executive order requiring those pharmacies to enter data within 24 hours, but it is unclear what would happen if either failed to comply.

“I think we will have recourse,” Hogan said. “I’m not sure exactly what that will be, but hopefully we won’t need to utilize it, but (the executive order) has the full force and effect of law. These are federal contracts, but they do have to follow our laws.”

The governor said the vaccine campaign has faced daunting challenges, calling it the “greatest peace-time operation” in American history.

The good news, is that states are getting vaccines, he said.

“The bad news is it’s not going as fast as anyone wants. I’m not going to be happy until we’re done, and I’m going to keep pushing and driving 24/7 and leave no stone unturned until we get it done.”

Under revised plans for rolling out vaccinations, the governor announced expansions of the earliest phases as well as adding categories of eligible workers.

Phase 1 A, the state’s current phase, includes all licensed, registered and certified health care workers, including nurses not working in hospitals, nursing homes and medical centers. Additionally, correctional officers and health care staff at state prisons as well as some key judiciary staff would be eligible for vaccinations. In all, about 500,000 people would be covered in that first group.

In the second group, teachers and staff at schools and day care facilities and adults 75 and older and government officials deemed important for continuity of government would be added to a group that includes those living in assisted living facilities and other congregate facilities. Hogan said he hoped the state could start vaccinations in that group, totaling about 860,000 people, by late January.

Another 1.1 million in the state’s phase two plan would include anyone 16-64 years old who is at increased risk of severe illness because of other underlying conditions as well as incarcerated adults, and essential workers in utilities, transportation and other industries.

Some of these workers are being notified now of their eligibility.

In the third phase, all adults between 65-74 years old, public safety and health care workers not covered in the first phase, as well as food and agriculture production workers, manufacturing, postal workers, public transit and grocery store employees would be eligible to be vaccinated. Those vaccinations for another 772,000 people could begin as soon as early March, according to Hogan’s timeline.

 

Licensed social workers learned via email Tuesday morning that they would be eligible to receive coronavirus vaccinations as part of a change by the Maryland Department of Health.

“We have been living with COVID-19 for almost a year now, “Stanley E. Weinstein, executive director of the state’s Board of Social Work Examiners, wrote in an email obtained by The Daily Record. “Social Workers have been key professionals in helping individuals and families struggling with this pandemic. Besides direct services in hospitals and clinics they address the increased need for behavioral health and social services on the front line.”

Weinstein wrote that social workers could be vaccinated through local health departments and referred them to those agencies to “arrange for an appointment.”

Under the state’s plan, health care workers and other critical first responders would be vaccinated under the first tier. The elderly, who comprise the majority of the vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths in Maryland so far, would come in the next phase.

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