ANNAPOLIS — Looking to coax more Marylanders into getting coronavirus vaccinations, Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday announced a series of initiatives meant to promote both the availability and safety of the shots.
Hogan touted the availability of doses at a growing number of mass vaccination sites around the state, including a new facility set to open Thursday at the Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, and increases in the number of people per hour receiving doses at some sites. Still, the governor said, the state is preparing for an inevitable decline in demand.
“Right now we’re continuing to (vaccinate) at the same pace, but we’re having to do lots of creative things to get the same number of vaccinations done every day,” said Hogan.
The expansion of available doses in pharmacies and private doctors’ offices is already having an effect. The state is seeing a roughly 20% drop in patients who made appointments at mass vaccination sites and then cancel because they were able to obtain a vaccination at a pharmacy or from a doctor.
The cancellations mean some sites have anywhere from 600 to 1,000 extra shots a day. To keep up the pace of vaccinations at the mass vaccination sites, the state is now expanding the number of available slots for walk-up patients.
“At some point we’re going to be shutting down the mass vax sites, and it’s going to be finding those last few people, knocking on doors, calling on the phone, you need to get a vaccine,” Hogan said, adding he does expect to see a decline in demand for the widely available vaccines. “We’re at that point now where we’re getting up to the hump and we’re going to start coming down the other side.”
As part of the effort to increase the number of vaccinations, the state will offer no-appointment walk-ups at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Baltimore Convention Center and the FEMA site in Greenbelt. The state is expanding the number of no-appointment slots at M&T Bank Stadium, in Hagerstown and Salisbury.
The state is slated to begin a series of “No arm left behind” initiatives promoting the availability of vaccinations as well as vaccine safety.
The state will also directly contact more than 70,000 Medicaid recipients 50 and older who have not yet received a vaccination as well as conducting clinics at senior centers, which are now reopened by an executive order signed by Hogan Wednesday.
The state is partnering with 42 colleges and universities in Maryland to encourage students and faculty to get vaccinated. Appointments for students and faculty are being blocked off at state mass vaccination sites. The effort also includes an ad and social media campaign aimed at students.
The University System of Maryland is considering whether to require vaccinations as a condition to return to in-person instruction.
“We would encourage them to do so, but that’s not an action that requires an executive order from us,” said Hogan. “That’s an action for the university system or individual universities.”
The state is working with large employers in the state as well as with manufacturers and other industries to increase vaccinations.
Hogan has been tight-lipped about setting public goals for the number of Maryland residents he would like to see vaccinated by July 4. Instead, the governor has repeated told reporters he wants to ensure that vaccinations are available for anyone who wants one.
Some experts have said it would take vaccination levels between 60%-80% for the country to reach herd immunity and slow the spread of the virus. Some national polls have suggested that about 60% of people would get vaccinated with the rest either on the fence or refusing a vaccination.
Hogan said he’s not concerned about failing to reach a herd immunity vaccination level in Maryland.
“Actually I’m really encouraged,” said Hogan. “We’re actually ahead of where we thought the max capacity was, but we’re going to keep going. We’d like to see 100% of the people, but I don’t think anybody anticipated getting to that level.”
During his comments Wednesday, Hogan said the state has vaccinated 82% of residents over age 65 and 55% of all Marylanders over the age of 18.
Hogan’s statistic includes residents who received at least one dose of an available vaccine. A single shot of the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines offer some protection but not the same level as for those who complete the two-dose regimen.
Currently, Marylanders 16 and older are eligible to receive a vaccination — roughly 4.8 million of the state’s approximately 6 million residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I’m going to keep pushing until everyone who wants one is going to get one,” said Hogan.