Hospitals across the state are reporting difficulties in getting enough vaccines to provide second doses to health care workers in the highest priority categories, according to state officials.
The news comes as federal officials in the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House COVID-19 Response Team advised states Monday to not withhold doses as part of an effort to have enough for a second dose. Still, there are questions about Maryland’s efforts, as state Health Department officials acknowledged some facilities are holding back doses while others are using every bit of vaccine allocated to them.
Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, said a number of health systems have complained to him about the inability to obtain second doses last week.
“Now there are second doses that are needed this week that are less than half of what hospitals were expecting,” said Lam.
“We have people now in (phase) 1A that cannot get a second dose,” said Lam, who is also a physician.
Acting Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader confirmed that receiving some second doses allotments was a problem but later told the Senate Vaccination Oversight Work Group that the state agency is telling providers to hold back quantities for second shots.
Schrader attributed the problem to “the transition between the two administrations” of former Republican former President Donald Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden, who took office on Jan. 20.
“HHS has been having a struggle reconciling the data,” said Schrader. “We’re working with them. We’ve been on the phone all weekend with them. They haven’t been able to put their finger on what the issue is.”
Schrader urged patience and for facilities to not use doses allocated for first doses to complete the two-dose requirements for both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations.
“It’s causing a lot of angst with us, but we want to be, we’re partners with the federal government and we’re putting a lot of pressure on them to figure this out,” said Schrader who later added “I don’t want to give up yet on the federal government figuring out what’s going on here.”
Schrader appeared at the second meeting of the oversight work group Monday afternoon. The panel was established last month to keep tabs on vaccination rollout efforts in Maryland.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said earlier this year that Schrader’s confirmation as the next state health secretary hinges on how well Maryland handles vaccination efforts.
Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said he has “been concerned for weeks that hospitals have been hoarding doses for exactly the reason that Senator Lam raised, to save them for second doses. My understanding was the health department was telling them to do that.”
Schrader acknowledged that his agency “is very concerned” about the lack of a predictable supply of second shots and has been telling providers to ensure they have enough supply for patients to complete the two-dose treatment.
“We want to make absolutely sure if someone gets a first dose that they are going to get a second dose,” said Schrader.
The advice at the state level now contradicts what federal officials said today they are telling states.
“We believe that some health care providers are regularly holding back doses that are intended as first doses, and instead keeping them in reserve for second doses for patients,” said White House Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt during a virtual briefing with reporters. “We want to be clear that we understand why health care providers have done that, but that it does not need to happen, and should not happen.”
Slavitt said he understood some providers are concerned about a lack of predictability about supply but that the “efficiency of doses being administered will steadily improve.”
Maryland is expecting to see a 16% bump in available first doses of the vaccine, receiving at least 88,000 doses in each of the next three weeks.
About 90% of those doses each week go to hospitals, local health departments and CVS and Walgreens for the retail pharmacies’ federal contracts to vaccinate people at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
County health departments are allotted doses based on size, ranging from small counties receiving a minimum of 300 doses to larger counties that get a minimum of 900 doses. Schrader said the goal is to make sure each county is receiving about 10-13 doses per 1,000 people.
“Obviously demand is outstripping supply,” said Schrader.