Md. secretary of health says Prince George’s Co. needs to improve confidence in vaccines

BOWIE, MD – FEBRUARY 06: People wait in their cars inside of a mass vaccination tent in the parking lot of Six Flags on February 6, 2021 in Bowie, Maryland. Maryland officially entered Phase 1C of COVID-19 vaccine distribution including people over age 65, U.S. Postal Service employees, and workers in manufacturing and agriculture. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Maryland’s acting secretary of health told the state’s senate that while Prince George’s County hosts a state-run COVID-19 vaccine site, county residents lag behind in receiving the vaccine.

While Prince George’s County represents about 15% of the state’s population, state health officials said, so far, county residents make up just 7% of those who’ve received their first vaccine doses.

Dennis Schrader, the acting health secretary, said county and state efforts to expand vaccinations continue to fall short, even though vaccine appointments have been made available at Six Flags America in Bowie.

“Most of the appointments were taken up by folks from other parts of the state,” Schrader said during the fourth weekly meeting of the state Senate’s vaccine oversight work group.

“Montgomery County, for example, had 3,300 people make appointments, and they came from 22 of the 24 jurisdictions. And, we actually had reserved spots for Prince George’s County ahead of time, so we still have tremendous work to do.”

Schrader said the mass vaccination site administered almost 20,000 vaccinations on Saturday and about 16,500 on Sunday.

Public health officials have said several factors result in vaccine hesitancy in minority communities, including the speed with which it was developed.

Mistrust based on historic health policies and clinical studies that have targeted minority communities, such as the federal study of untreated syphilis among Black men centered in Tuskegee, Alabama, has also contributed to the reluctance.

“What we’ve asked the White House to help us with, and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], is tell us what are the critical success factors that have very high probability of getting minorities and people of color to take the shot, and they said they’re working on it and they want to give us information but they don’t have a silver bullet right now,” Schrader said.

But some senators cited other potential factors discouraging participation in the county, such as internet-based registration, unhelpful directions from the state’s 211 COVID-19 telephone hotline and the lack of a central registry to make vaccination appointments.

“There are many Prince Georgians who want to get vaccines. And to say that no one in Prince George’s County wants to get the vaccine, therefore they’re all coming from other places, doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said state Sen. James Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.

Maryland health officials said more efforts are being made to bring the vaccine to hard-to-reach Black and Hispanic communities in the county.

Schrader said the state is currently partnering with a vaccine provider and Reid Temple AME Church, a large congregation in the Glenn Dale community of Prince George’s County, to provide vaccinations to eligible church members.

As of Monday night, more than 749,000 people in Maryland have received at least one vaccine dose.

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.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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