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The Maryland Department of Health will begin airing television ads this week in which Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) calls the COVID-19 vaccines “safe” and an important step toward getting back to “ordinary life.”
There are two versions of the ad — one that runs 30 seconds that will air on cable and streaming television in the Washington, D.C., market, including her home county, and a 2-minute version that will be available on the state’s “GoVAX” website.
The state is using GoVAX “ambassadors” — almost all high-profile Marylanders of color — to reduce vaccine hesitancy. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) kicked off the campaign in late January with Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D).
Although Maryland’s opened its first mass-vaccination site at Six Flags America in Largo, Prince George’s ranks last in vaccinations.
According to the state’s COVID-19 website, 7.6% of the country’s residents have received their first dose, and 3.9% have received both doses.
Charles County, which is 50.1% African-American, has the second-worst ranking at 9.7% and 4.4%, respectively. Baltimore City has the third-lowest numbers, 11.7% and 6.9%.
Across the state, 13.9% of the population has received one dose; 7.7% of Marylanders have received both. Three counties — Kent, Talbot and Worchester — are above 20%.
The state’s lagging distribution rate in minority communities has triggered sometimes-tense discussions between state lawmakers and Maryland’s acting heath secretary, Dennis R. Schrader.
“What I’ve noticed is that that gap has grown, rather than closed,” legislative analyst Michael Powell told the Senate’s Vaccine Work Group last Monday. “Prince George’s County, which is somewhere around 15% of Marylanders, [is] somewhere around 7% of the folks who have gotten the vaccine so far.”
Some lawmakers have said the state has not done enough to get vaccines into non-white neighborhoods.
The state’s three existing mass-vaccination sites at Six Flags, the Baltimore Convention Center and at nearby M&T Bank Stadium. The fourth site will open later this month in Waldorf.
The state Health department has begun to partner with large majority-Black churches and to use sound trucks with Spanish messages to reach neighborhoods that are home to significant numbers of Latinx residents.
Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland National Guard has been tapped by Hogan to lead a “Vaccine Equity Task Force.”
In the spots, Alsobrooks — speaking directly to camera — says she got vaccinated “so that others would trust it.”
“This vaccine has been tested,” she adds. “Scientists and doctors are able to tell us that is it safe for us to take.”
The executive acknowledged there exists “a degree of hesitancy.”
One of her top aides, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Health, Human Services and Education George L. Askew, spoke with emotion in December when he recalled the federal government’s mistreatment of people of color.
“I can tell you, not once in my lifetime, did any of [my ancestors] say to me, ‘Hey, trust in your government. They will always do what’s in your best interests,’” he said. “Nor did they ever say, ‘Never question what The Man is asking you to take, eat or inject.’”
Alsobrooks said “it is important for us to take this vaccine not just for ourselves but for those we love. … This is what is necessary for us to get back to everyday ordinary life.”
Hogan drew criticism last week when, speaking of vaccines, he said that Baltimore City “had gotten far more than they really were entitled to.”
Scott issued a statement in rebuttal, declaring: ”Baltimoreans are Marylanders, too. They are both entitled to and deserve the vaccine.”