ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan hopes to give the state’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic a shot in the arm with the hiring of a former top federal official.
Dr. Robert Redfield, who last led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Republican President Donald Trump, will return to Maryland and a position advising Hogan during the ongoing pandemic.
“From the very beginning of this crisis I have always emphasized how important it is to follow the science and get the best advice from the medical experts, and we’re very fortunate to have such a renowned expert as Dr. Redfield,” said Hogan.
Redfield returns to Maryland as Hogan’s senior adviser to public health. In that position, the governor said, the former CDC head will advise on a wide range of priorities related to the coronavirus and its variants, vaccination efforts and reopening the state.
Hogan made the announcement as he continues to shake off criticism that the state lags behind others both in terms of its public vaccination efforts as well as addressing racial inequities related to vaccine distribution in minority communities.
Prior to his work at the CDC, Redfield conducted research on HIV infections and co-founded the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He also served as a professor of medicine and microbiology and chief of infectious diseases at the school.
Redfield’s time at the CDC, a position to which he was appointed in 2018, was marred by criticisms that he allowed the agency to become subject to the political whims and demands of Trump during his handling of the response to COVID-19.
“I’m not going to sit here and defend everything that the president said or did or relitigate the past,” said Hogan. “I’m not sure Dr. Redfield wants to do that, either, but I think most of that criticism was never directed at (Redfield) or his leadership of that agency, which I think I am very proud of.”
Redfield, responding to questions about his time in the agency, said he remained proud of the work done there.
“We did put science first,” said Redfield. “If there is anything I was disappointed in during my time at CDC was the inconsistent messaging.”
Redfield joins as an adviser at a time when Hogan is dogged by criticisms related to the state’s vaccination program.
“I’m concerned about some of those reports, and we’re trying to do the best job we can and trying to get to the bottom of that,” said Hogan, telling reporters the state was doing better than 28 other states. “I’d rather be No. 1.”
The governor has frequently bragged that Maryland has performed “better than most states” as it relates to vaccine efforts.
But reviews by a state legislative oversight group has raised concerns. A recent ranking by the CDC and its vaccine distribution and administration tracker ranks Maryland 42 of 50 states as of March 2.
“One thing I think that is causing a problem, we couldn’t figure out how we have done 99.7% of all doses we had and yet we were somehow showing up lower in a ranking of percentages of vaccinations used and we’re still trying to get to the bottom of it with the White House,” said Hogan, who said some of the issue could be with 230,000 doses sent to federal agencies within the state that are being counted with what is allocated to Maryland.
“We just found out about this, and the White House and the CDC can’t really give us answers on this,” said Hogan adding that the doses “appeared on our website.”
Hogan said the initial explanation was that the doses might have been sent to five different federal agencies within the state but are being included in counts of what the state has received.
“They allocated them to Maryland, but they did not send them to us,” said Hogan.
The state will receive nearly 50,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine — a single dose regimen — that will allow the state to expand vaccinations, including at a regional mass vaccination site that will open in Charles County
The number of available doses at Six Flags in Prince George’s County will double to 4,000 doses per day. The site at M&T Bank Stadium will increase to 2,000 per day.
Two other sites — the Blue Crab baseball stadium in Charles County and Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury — are scheduled to open on March 4 and March 18.
Another site at the Premium Outlets shopping center in Hagerstown is expected to open by the end of the month.
The initial allocation of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine this week will be the last for a while. No other shipments from that manufacturer are expected before March 18, according to Hogan.
“I can assure you that whatever supply we are able to receive, we are ready to immediately deploy and get it into the arms of Marylanders,” Hogan said.
Lawmakers and some local leaders also remained concerned that the state is not doing enough to make vaccines equitably available to Black and other minority communities.
Hogan said he plans another announcement Thursday that will outline vaccine equity plans he said would be a first of its kind in the nation.
As part of that effort, Hogan said Tuesday, the mass vaccination clinic at M&T Bank Stadium will allow the state to use the site at the Baltimore Convention Center to prioritize “underserved communities” in Baltimore City and increase the number of doses from 400 to 1,000 per day.
Last week, Hogan responded to criticisms related to Baltimore by saying that the jurisdiction “had gotten far more than they really were entitled to,” a comment that drew outrage from Mayor Brandon Scott and others.
Hogan Tuesday doubled down, saying “my comments were factual” and took into account the number of overall doses the city received, which was the most in the state, while having the fourth-largest population. Hogan’s calculations appear to include doses sent to hospitals within the city that local residents would not necessarily have access to, in much the same way that the governor said the state was being penalized for doses sent to federal agencies but counted as part of Maryland’s total allocation.
“Look, I know there are concerns about the way it was misinterpreted. We’ve been very focused on equity,” said Hogan. “We’ve done far better than most other states in the country as far as that, but it’s not good enough.”