Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that the state has launched a concerted first in the nation “equity operations plan” aimed at increasing access to coronavirus vaccines in Maryland’s most vulnerable communities.

“To build on all of the months of comprehensive effort, we are announcing the very first vaccine equity operations plan of any state in America-to further address health disparities and the issue of equity-and to get more vaccines to people in every community who need them most,” Hogan said at a news conference at the State House in Annapolis.

Hogan touted the administration’s vaccine outreach efforts to majority-minority communities. Hogan noted that about half of all the vaccine doses allocated by Giant and Wal-Mart are targeted toward underserved communities and that Maryland was one of the first states in the nation to track vaccine progress based on race. Hogan also noted that the state has set up three mass vaccination sites in majority-minority jurisdictions. Two of the sites are located in Baltimore City and one is located in Charles County.

In January, the state established the Vaccine Equity Task Force, which is headed by Maryland National Guard Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead. The task force is charged with recruiting equity advisers in each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions.

At Thursday’s news conference, Birckhead noted that underserved communities tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing health care and that that is why the task force must be clear in its objectives.

“Historic data shows that vulnerable, underserved, and hard-to-reach communities face both structural and informational barriers to vaccine access. Growing disparities in these communities make it necessary to be intentional and concrete in steps that we are going to take to remove these barriers and improve the rate of the vaccine in arms in vulnerable populations.”

Birckhead said a key part of the operations plan will involve partnership with the private sector and community outreach to ascertain what resources are needed in a given community-such as where to place mobile vaccination sites. The input gathered from the community would then be submitted to the Department of Health, Birckhead said.

But not everybody is happy with the Hogan administration’s record on vaccine equity.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the governor should have addressed the issue at an earlier date.

“Vaccination equity needed to be a priority for Maryland from the very beginning. The fact that only now Governor Hogan is releasing a plan to address disparities in vaccinations, speaks to how disorganized and dysfunctional vaccine administration has been in our state.”

Brown added: “Elected leaders have already offered many workable solutions to address these inequities. We must target and prioritize vaccines to Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, which have been hit hardest by this pandemic. And, we must ensure vaccine supplies sent to these jurisdictions actually get into the arms of their residents. We can begin by setting aside days at the Six Flags mass vaccination site for solely Prince George’s County.”

There are 384,765 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Thursday morning, according to the Department of Health, and 7,740 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 3.24%, which is within CDC recommended guidelines for containment. Maryland has conducted nearly 8 million COVID-19 tests.

Maryland’s health care providers have administered 1,394,725 doses of the coronavirus vaccine. That includes 900,458 (14.894%) first doses and 494,267 (8.176%) second doses

This article originally appeared on MarylandReporter.com on Thursday, March 4, 2021.


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