ANNAPOLIS — A top Maryland lawmaker announced Tuesday that he is forming an oversight panel to monitor the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, after criticizing “unacceptable” levels of confusion about vaccine access, administration and distribution in the state.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said the Senate would consider not confirming Gov. Larry Hogan’s nominee to lead the state health department, based on the current performance of the state’s vaccine rollout. Hogan nominated Dennis Schrader to the position last week; he has been serving as acting secretary since Secretary Robert “Bobby” Neall stepped down last year.
Ferguson said Maryland has global leaders in public health and should be doing better in making the vaccine available.
“We should have the infrastructure stood up that is the best in the world. That’s not where we are, and I don’t think it would be fair to confirm the acting secretary with where we are with the vaccination program,” Ferguson said.
Michael Ricci, the Republican governor’s spokesman, said Maryland has administered more doses than 32 other states, but the numbers depend on how many vaccines the state has.
“This is going to take some time, and as the governor has repeatedly cautioned, you’re going to see stories about not enough appointments, long lines, waiting lists, and demand exceeding supply,” Ricci said.
Last week, Ferguson said, a COVID-19 legislative panel was told that vaccines were being delivered at a rate of 10,000 a day — and that Maryland as vaccinating at a rate of 12,000 a day. However, on Saturday the state administered 7,120 doses, and on Sunday the numbers dropped to 1,571 doses, he said.
The Senate president also noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Maryland has administered 35% of the vaccines it has received. That means of about 565,000 vaccines distributed to Maryland, about 370,000 doses have yet to be fully administered, Ferguson said.
“At the end of the day, we need to know what’s kept all vaccines from being used this week and every week and what we’re doing to get them administered safely and efficiently,” Ferguson said.
The Senate president lawmakers are getting “overwhelmed” with calls from constituents who do not know when they have the opportunity to be vaccinated and where they can go to get vaccinated.
“There’s just a lack of information and lack of clarity about how this process will move forward,” Ferguson said.
Ricci said the Senate president has not “put out a single thing on social media to help our medical experts promote vaccine confidence.”
“Let’s work together to get the heck out of this pandemic, and then you can go back to the Annapolis politics that Marylanders couldn’t care less about,” Ricci wrote in an email.
The work group will focus on four main areas, including whether Maryland residents are being vaccinated effectively and whether the state’s supply chain is working. It also will focus on supply and demand and on access in the state’s minority communities.
Ferguson said he believes there needs to be better coordination and support from the state. If local jurisdictions or partners are not providing sufficient support, the state health department needs to know why and be able to act quickly to provide support and guidance, he said.
“Right now, it feels as though there are a lot of fingers being pointed at certain areas when we know that there’s 300,000 vaccines sitting on the shelf, and our question is how can we improve this? And that’s what we’re announcing today is this oversight work group,” Ferguson said.