Maryland’s acting health secretary told a panel of state lawmakers Monday that the state is instructing local health leaders to preserve COVID-19 vaccine doses so that supplies will be available to administer the second shot to complete the immunization process.
“That is true. Absolutely,” said Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader during the second session of the Senate vaccine oversight workgroup.
It was the answer to one of a flurry of questions from state lawmakers, who sounded confused and frustrated with the overall process and data presented at the virtual gathering.
“It doesn’t sound very organized to me,” said state Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick County.
“It is,” Schrader said in response.
Young challenged why Maryland was going ahead with opening a half-dozen so-called mass vaccination sites while people were still registering for appointments, and that local health departments “don’t know what’s going on within their county.”
“You’re going to open mass sites when all the other places aren’t getting enough vaccines?” Young asked. “What is to be gained by that?”
On the matter of preserving allocated doses, Schrader cited the National Institutes of Health as an example of how “they’re trying to be very disciplined.”
Schrader said NIH recently requested COVID-19 vaccine doses from the state. “And then they went ahead and used all the second doses as first doses and then ran out, and called us and said, ‘Hey, we need another 5,000 doses,” he said.
But, hours earlier, President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response team said it wasn’t necessary to hold back received doses at this stage.
“We want to be clear that we understand why health care providers have done that, but that it does not need to happen and should not happen,” said Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to Biden’s COVID-19 response team during a briefing.
Schrader said the “angst” state officials are experiencing about second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers is likely due to the transition between administrations on the federal level. But a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said federal officials are working closely with Maryland health officials to clarify any misunderstanding.
Schrader said Maryland is expecting to receive a consistent 88,000 vaccine doses for the next three weeks, and added that with Johnson and Johnson’s upcoming vaccine and a national retail pharmacy distribution plan, the tide will turn.
“The demand still exceeds the supply, but we’re inching up,” Schrader said. “I expect, over the next three or four weeks, we’ll start to see some equilibrium there.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.