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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Schrader’s nomination as Md. health secretary still in peril

"We are looking at every possible intervention into Prince George's County that's possible," says acting Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Dennis Schrader’s nomination to be Maryland health secretary remains in limbo. Senate Democratic leaders have tied his confirmation fate to the performance of the state health department in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine program. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS — Efforts to vaccinate the state’s population against the coronavirus could ultimately derail Dennis Schrader’s second attempt at becoming the state’s health secretary.

Schrader’s confirmation by the Maryland Senate remains in limbo and tied to vaccinations. In recent weeks, those vaccination efforts have raised as many concerns as they’ve answered as lawmakers and other officials question how doses are allocated and the lack of equitable access for minorities.

“What I would say is if the decision were right now, I think we’d be hard-pressed to see the confirmation go through smoothly,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, told reporters Friday. “There’s still a lot of frustrations from residents, from constituents who still feel like the key question of when and where they can get a vaccine has not been answered. There’s still too much confusion.”

Ferguson leads a chamber in which only 15 of 47 senators are Republicans. Schrader, who has been acting secretary for several months, needs 24 votes to be confirmed.

“We are keeping the focus on remembrance today, we can get back to politics tomorrow,” said Mike Ricci, a Hogan spokesman.

The governor, Ferguson and other state leaders are expected to take part in a remembrance ceremony in which the State House and other buildings will be bathed in amber lights in memory of the nearly 386,000 Marylanders known to be infected and more than 7,740 people who have died as a result of the virus since the first cases were diagnosed in the state on March 5, 2020.

This is Schrader’s second appointment to lead the Department of Health.

His name was withdrawn from consideration in 2017, but Hogan opted to continue him in the position. The move touched off a skirmish between the governor and legislators who attempted to prevent Schrader and another appointee who was not confirmed from being paid while remaining in their positions.

That battle resulted in a court case in which the state was ordered to pay Schrader and the other appointee. Hogan and the legislature later reached an agreement on future appointments.

If Schrader were to again have his name withdrawn, or the Senate were to vote down his appointment, Hogan would be required to find another nominee to fill the position.

Ferguson created the Senate Vaccine Oversight Work Group at the start of the session to monitor state efforts. The Senate president tied the weekly meetings, which feature Schrader taking sometimes difficult questions from lawmakers, to the nominee’s potential confirmation.

“What we really need to see is that as the supply increases, which we know will happen in the next couple of weeks, we need to see coherence in the system so people know exactly when and where they can get their vaccine, and we need to see significant progress on the equitable distribution and uptake of vaccines,” said Ferguson.

With more than half of the 90-day legislative session over, Ferguson, a former teacher, provided an interim grade.

“There is room for improvement,” said Ferguson. “There is significant room for improvement. That’s the grade I would give.”

Hogan has repeatedly said Maryland has performed “better than most states” when it comes to vaccines even as there are indications, including some rankings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the state is doing better than only less than a dozen states.

The governor as recently as Thursday downplayed some concerns as politically motivated or mere frustrations over the lack of available vaccines nationwide.

“There are marginal improvements,” said Ferguson. “We see little pieces here and there. Those marginal improvements are not sufficient. We need to see a radically better program that is clear and obvious where and when people can get their vaccines.”

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