ANNAPOLIS — Marylanders 16 and older can immediately preregister for a vaccination, a change that Gov. Larry Hogan said could eventually lead to a more rapid expansion of eligibility.
Hogan’s announcement comes as the state begins to look for ways to use up additional doses of three vaccines sent by the federal government and a supply that is expected to increase in coming weeks. The governor teased future announcements that could lead to more people being able to get a dose sooner and even a time when the state is closing the same mass vaccination sites it is now opening.
“All of our mass vax sites are going to first be busy and then slow down to the point where our goal is to put ourselves out of business,” said Hogan. “Our goal is not to have lines at 12 mass vax sites forever.”
Less than a month ago, Hogan announced an expedited timeline tied to President Joe Biden’s mandate that all adults be eligible for a vaccination by May 1. Under Hogan’s plan announced in March, all Marylanders would be eligible to register for a vaccination no later than April 27. He paired that announcement with a doubling of the state’s planned six mass vaccination sites to 12.
All of those mass vaccination sites are expected to be open by April 26.
Maryland entered Phase Two B of the state’s vaccination plan on Tuesday. All of Phase Two is expected to be open by April 13. Individuals in the final phase would be eligible to begin receiving vaccinations on April 27.
Effective immediately, any adult 16 and older is eligible to preregister on the state’s website.
“As a result of the robust infrastructure that we have built, our rapidly accelerating vaccination rate and finally that critical increase in vaccine supply, we likely will be able to make announcements in the days ahead regarding the further acceleration of the vaccine eligibility phases,” Hogan said.
The governor said that priority will continue to be given to those seeking a vaccine who are eligible in higher priority phases, older people, those who work in essential services and those with conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus.
Maryland will also make available walk-up vaccinations at its location in Wicomico County. Over the weekend, social media was abuzz with discussions of how the site on the shore was having trouble filling its appointment slots. Hogan encouraged making an appointment to guarantee a vaccination.
Other no-appointment lines could be opened in the future.
Maryland has received the first of a number of mobile Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination trailers that will travel the state with special federal vaccination teams to inoculate people in remote and underserved areas.
The state is also requiring local health departments to develop vaccination equity plans by Monday to target areas in each jurisdiction where the population is hard to reach or has difficulty getting to other vaccination sites.
Hogan also called on local governments to begin to plan for reopening of senior centers. As part of that effort, the governor promised targeted closed vaccination clinics at those centers.
The emphasis comes as the state continues to race against rising infections — a trend seen nationally — and the increasing spread of variants.
“We are increasingly concerned at the number of highly transmissible variants rapidly spreading across the country, particularly in New York, New Jersey and throughout New England,” said Hogan. “They appear to be moving down the East Coast now, including our neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Delaware.”
In all, the state has identified six variants of the virus totaling 677 cases of mutated coronavirus.
The dominant strain continues to be one first identified in the United Kingdom which makes up 86% of the variant cases identified in Maryland. The state has also identified strains identified in New York, California, two from Brazil and one from South Africa.
Hogan announced March 9 that he was lifting most of the indoor and outdoor capacity limits on businesses. Since then, the state has seen a 62% increase in the number of cases. Other key measurements — including hospitalizations, positivity and infection and new case per capita rates — have also started to spike.
Hogan said he has not considered reimposing any restrictions.
“We don’t think it (increases) had anything to do with reopenings,” said Hogan, noting that he has left in place mask and social distancing requirements lifted on other states.
The governor pointed out that cases are spiking in New York, which has stricter requirements in place.
“Our indications are that these variants are much more contagious,” said Hogan. “That’s why it’s spreading across the country.”
The state’s efforts to increase vaccinations will ultimately be tied to the number of doses sent by the federal government.
Maryland is beginning to see an increased supply of vaccine from the federal government. But too frequently, promised amounts have not been delivered, though the governor said the state continues to see increases week over week.
“If they keep giving us more, we will give them all.”
This week, the state was expecting about 90,000 more total doses of vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. Instead, the state received about 30,000 more, according to Hogan.
“We hear about what we might get from the feds, but we don’t know until sometimes the day before,” said Hogan. “We did get an increase but it’s not as high as we expected.”
Acting Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader told a Senate oversight panel on Monday that Maryland is expecting 450,000 doses for two weeks beginning April 5. That expected amount grows to nearly 500,000 doses by April 26 and peaks at nearly 560,000 doses between May 3 and June 21.
The actual amounts received will limit how much faster the state can open eligibility.
“We don’t want any vaccines sitting on the shelf and we don’t want to promise people a vaccine if we don’t have one,” said Hogan.