Howard County Executive Calvin Ball rolled up his sleeve for a shot of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Monday, aiming to boost confidence in the new single-shot option and to showcase the county’s efforts to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are distributed equitably by launching small clinics at churches and other community spots.
“With expanded eligibility and increasing supply, we must do more of the hard work of ensuring that communities of color, our more vulnerable residents and people who have limited access to online registration can get their vaccine,” Ball said shortly before receiving his single shot of the vaccine at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, Maryland, on Monday morning.
While many local leaders across the state, along with the governor, were vaccinated at the beginning of the rollout, Ball said he decided to wait until there was a greater supply of vaccine doses in his county.
As for getting the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson shot, Ball said he has continued to hear concerns about the vaccine’s efficacy, and he wanted to put those to rest.
Calling the one-shot option a “game-changer,” Ball added: “I want our message to be clear: Whichever vaccine is available to you, you should get it.”
The nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and other top medical experts all say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is nearly 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death from coronavirus.
“Hopefully, today, will not only resolve many of those questions, but we will be a model for everyone else once they’re able to get the vaccine,” Ball said.
The county executive flashed a thumbs-up after getting the shot, which was streamed live on Facebook. The county’s health officer, Dr. Maura Rossman, administered the vaccine.
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400 J&J doses administered this week
The county is using its recent shipment of 400 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses this week to continue vaccinating teachers and senior citizens in the county, Rossman said.
The head of the school system, Michael J. Martirano, said the vaccine effort was “extremely close” to having provided at least a first dose to all school employees who want it.
Overall, the county has administered more than 63,000 doses — covering 21% of the county’s population. As a percentage of population, Howard County ranks among the most-vaccinated counties in the state.
However, supplies of the vaccine remain limited and appointments fill quickly, Rossman said.
There are also persistent racial gaps in the vaccination data, the county executive said.
African Americans, who make up 20% of the county’s population, account for 25% of the county’s COVID deaths — but just 13% of county residents who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. People of Asian descent make up 18% of the county’s population but just 12% of those who have received a vaccine shot.
“This is not good enough for the county,” Ball said. “We can and must do better.”
Hesitancy about the vaccine plays some part in the disparities, Ball said, citing a recent Goucher Poll poll published Monday that reported just 64% of Marylanders said they would get the vaccine when it’s their turn.
But Ball said there are also “barriers to access” that the county is working to address.
Key to those efforts is partnering with community organizations and churches to offer small-scale clinics “to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” Ball said. The county will work with the Maryland National Guard and the state’s vaccine equity task force, which are working on a similar program.
Rev. Robert Turner, the senior pastor of St. John Baptist Church, said the church is working with the health department and Howard County General Hospital on the clinic.
His message to the community: “If you want to get vaccinated near where you live, work or worship, come and get it,” Turner said.
The county is also taking lessons learned from its successful knock-on-doors effort for the 2020 census.
Stephanie Adibe, deputy director of Howard County’s Department of Community Resources and Services, said the county finished the 2020 census with a response rate of over 80%, which she said was the second-highest response rate in the state and among the top in the county.
“We can apply lessons learned form the census and leverage that infrastructure for COVID vaccine outreach,” Adibe said.
“The infrastructure built to reach our hard-to-count and less-likely-to-respond population during the census include many of the same communities that have increased vaccine hesitancy, difficulty accessing technology required for vaccine registration and lack transportation to vaccine clinics.”
Adibe’s department will serve as the lead agency for coordinate marketing of the COVID-19 vaccine information, she said. The county is spending $1 million in grant funding for community outreach and education efforts.
In addition, the county is also expanding its Mobile Integrated Community Health Unit to provide vaccinations to homebound residents.