Maryland lawmakers continue to express concerns about the low numbers of Blacks and other minorities who are being vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The continued concerns come even as the state has opened a mass vaccination site in Prince George’s County. Even so, that county continues to lag behind, and some initial data suggests that residents of other counties are the primary users of the site at the Six Flags amusement park.
Members of the Senate Vaccination Oversight Work Group spent most of an hour questioning acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader on what they referred to as “The Prince George’s County question.”
“Overall, it just looked like Prince Georgians were not getting vaccinated,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore. “The racial gap is lower than in any other county, but overall it just was surprisingly low on the total number.”
Schrader told lawmakers that the majority of doses administered at the Six Flags site were administered to people who do not live in Prince George’s County.
“The No. 1 and 2 users of the mass vax site at Six Flags are Montgomery County and Howard County. So we know that,” he said.
Schrader’s comments came during the latest meeting of the oversight work group Monday afternoon. The panel was established last month to keep tabs on vaccination rollout efforts in Maryland.
Ferguson said earlier this year that Schrader’s confirmation as the next state health secretary hinges on how well Maryland handles vaccination efforts.
Prince George’s County, a predominantly African-American jurisdiction, continues to lag behind other counties when it comes to vaccinations. State officials have expressed concerns about vaccine hesitancy in minority communities.
Ferguson noted that state data shows very little gap between the numbers of white and Black Prince George’s County residents receiving doses. About 3.2% of vaccinated residents of that county are Black compared to 3.28% who are white.
“We know vaccines are going there, but the numbers are so incredibly low in the total number of residents,” Ferguson said.
In Maryland, Blacks make up about 30% of the population. Minority populations in the state have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
State data shows that roughly 15% of those receiving vaccinations are Black.
“That’s not a good number,” said Schrader. “I’m not suggesting that’s a good number. Our goal is to increase that.”
Maryland currently operates two mass vaccination clinics. In addition to Six Flags, another is at the Baltimore Convention Center. The state plans to open additional centers as more vaccines become available. A site operated by the University of Maryland Medical System is expected to open soon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
As the state receives vaccine doses from the federal government, it allocates about 35% to the health departments in the 24 major political subdivisions.
Health Department clinics operated by Prince George’s County government limit vaccinations to county residents only, but the state site at Six Flags is open to any Maryland resident by appointment.
Schrader told lawmakers his department shares concerns about Prince George’s County.
“We are looking at every possible intervention into Prince George’s County that’s possible,” said Schrader.
The acting health secretary said the state is involved in outreach efforts in the county, including the use of a sound truck in Latino neighborhoods as well as efforts with large churches in the county.
“We have the same concerns,” said Schrader. “We’re not going to rest until we crack this nut.”