Slow vaccine effort delays confirmation of Maryland health secretary

Dennis Schrader is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s pick to head the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Until Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout improves, the nominee for state health secretary won’t get a confirmation hearing.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said Tuesday that because Dennis Schrader was appointed acting health secretary, one thing has become clear: “Maryland is ineffectively administering vaccines in an accountable manner.”

After the state legislature was told there would be 12,000 vaccines administered each day, Ferguson said, Maryland administered just 1,571 doses this past Sunday.

Ferguson called the figures “unbelievable,” and said that there’s “unacceptable levels of confusion about vaccine access, administration and distribution.”

According to the latest state vaccine data, 551,700 doses have been distributed, but just 265,657 have been administered.

Under the current conditions, Ferguson said, “I don’t think it would be fair to confirm the acting secretary with where we are with the vaccination program.”

Lawmakers, he said, are forming a vaccination oversight workgroup, which will examine wait times, the supply chain, supply and demand, and efforts to ensure minority communities have confidence in — and access to — the vaccines.

Members of the oversight workgroup will include state Sens. James Rosapepe, Clarence Lam, Mary Washington and Ronald Young.

Asked precisely what the state should do in order to improve the rollout of vaccines, Ferguson said there is no one specific answer. “There is no question this is a very challenging logistical puzzle,” he said, adding it’s critical to improve access.

“We need to make sure that people know when and where they can get this vaccine so that we can do all of the things that Marylanders want to start doing again.”

Also speaking during Ferguson’s briefing with reporters was Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician at Mary’s Center and a policy fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“We need better information about the vaccine, and it should not be limited to websites,” she said. “It needs to be fed in houses of worship, in barbershops, in places people trust.”

“Misinformation” has been a problem, even among health care workers, said Patel, who believes a more active approach toward educating the public is needed.

“If you rely on a very passive approach, and put up a website hoping people will visit, I can guarantee you that information will not get out as broadly as it needs to,” she said.

Asked about the state’s performance in getting vaccines to the public, Gov. Larry Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, wrote in an email that Maryland has done well compared with several other jurisdictions.

“We’ve administered more doses than 32 other states,” Ricci wrote.

“Right now, the federal government is only giving us 10,000 doses a day for over 1.5 million people who are currently eligible.

“This is going to take some time.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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