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Oldest Marylanders falling behind for COVID-19 vaccine, lawmaker says

"Positivity rates were never designed for the way that we're using it now," says Sen. Clarence Lam. "It's being used as the high-stakes measurement of whether we can open businesses, schools and the like." (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Opening up vaccine eligibility to younger Maryland residents will only further challenge the ability of the oldest people to receive inoculations, warns Sen. Clarence Lam.  (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The oldest Maryland residents are falling behind other age groups as the state begins to open up a new phase of coronavirus eligibility.

Gov. Larry Hogan in the last week has announced a number of initiatives aimed at targeting more vulnerable populations where they live, including the use of primary care physicians to administer vaccines as well as mobile vaccination clinics. An uncertainty about how many vaccine doses will come to Maryland coupled with an expansion of eligibility has lawmakers wondering what the plan is to ensure older residents are protected.

“It’s the same question: How can we open up to that next level if we know that there are people in the first group that aren’t vaccinated?” Sen. Addie Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican, asked acting state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader.

State data shows that less than 40% of residents 70-80 years old have been vaccinated and about 45% of those over 80 have received doses, Lam said, lower figures than some slightly younger groups.

Older residents as well as Blacks and some other minority communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus and have higher rates of more serious illness and death.

Starting Tuesday, the state will open up phase two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to vaccinate Marylanders with people over 60 with underlying medication conditions becoming eligible to seek a vaccination. Additional residents will become eligible over the next month in phases Two B and C as the state moves toward meeting President Joe Biden’s deadline of opening up eligibility for anyone who wants a vaccine by May 1.

Hogan and Schrader have repeatedly touted a model based on Southwest Airlines, which prioritizes an eligible person who wants a vaccination over targeting specific groups. Lawmakers including Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, worry that model will leave behind older residents who are less tech savvy.

Lam, speaking to Schrader, said he is concerned “the group two people are always going to be able to run through the terminal faster.”

Schrader told the panel the goal is to “leave no one behind” and to use microtargeting” to reach older and minority populations around the state.

“It’s not just pushing out tens of thousands (of vaccinations),” said Schrader. “We’re going to have to go in and pull people, which is why this microtargeting strategy is so critical.”

Monday marked the ninth meeting of the oversight group with Schrader. Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, has tied the acting secretary’s confirmation to his leadership of the vaccination effort. A hearing for Schrader is scheduled later this month with a vote by the end of the 90-day session in April.

Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, called on Schrader to release a detailed plan for what he called “vaccination on demand” tied to Biden’s demand that states, territories and tribal nations fully open up eligibility by May 1.

Biden, however, in issuing his order warned the public earlier this month that eligibility did not mean that there would immediately be a dose for everyone who wanted one. Hogan has issued similar cautions.

Maryland and other states are in a race to vaccinate people as infection rates and hospitalizations plateau and even rise.

In the last week, the rolling seven-day average of new cases has increased more than 10% week, and hospitalizations have also increased in the state. The state’s infection and positivity rates have also increased.

Nearly two weeks ago, Hogan lifted restrictions on the vast majority of businesses but kept in place mask and social distancing requirements. Schrader said the department will begin to look this week at the link between those announcements and any increases in cases and positivity rates.

By the end of the month, Schrader said, he expects that the state could begin receiving 300,000-400,000 combined doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Those doses — assuming they materialize as promised — include first and second vaccinations.

Currently, the state can administer up to 500,000 doses per week through mass vaccination sites, local health departments, private pharmacies and doctors and the mobile clinics.

The state is working to build capacity. Hogan could announce as early as this week new mass vaccination sites, according to Schrader.

The acting health secretary said the goal is to be able to administer 100,000 doses per day or more.

“When those doses come, we’re ready to go,” said Schrader.





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