In order to address racial inequity in Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution, the state health department expanded eligibility priority in January for those 65 and older.
Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said during a Senate work group session Monday that most seniors who received vaccines tended to be white.
“One of the things we learned that 75 and older tends to be more dominated by Caucasians. In order to get equity, we moved to 65 and older,” he said. “We vaccinated almost 47 percent of 65 and older residents. Even though we are focused on 75-plus, we moved to that 65-plus. From an equity perspective, it’s an important thing. Although it did add more people and it made it more harder for us, but we felt it was worth it because of that.”
The work group held its seventh weekly briefing with Schrader who has been criticized about the efficiency of the state’s vaccine rollout in certain jurisdictions.
Although Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he was pleased that seniors are vaccinated, there remains a discrepancy in the majority-Black jurisdictions of Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
He said about 62 percent of seniors age 75 to 84 still haven’t received a shot in the arm. The figure stands nearly the same for residents 85 and older.
Schrader reiterated the state continues to urge residents to call (1-855-634-6829) for vaccination support.
A pre-registration portal is to open this month to schedule appointments at the mass vaccination sites.
Schrader attributed technology and transportation as a part of the problem in reaching older residents.
Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democrat and physician who represents portions of Baltimore and Howard counties, said Republican Gov. Larry Hogan first attributed low vaccine distribution to vaccine hesitancy among Black and Latino residents.
A chart shows more doses went to four of the biggest counties and Baltimore City, but Prince George’s accounts for the lowest number of vaccines administered at 14 percent. In Carroll County, which is smaller than Prince George’s, 28 percent of its population has been vaccinated, as of Monday, March 8.
In terms of vaccine distribution among race in the last several weeks, the percentage of doses for Blacks increased from 15 percent to 17 percent, according to state data.
Lam mentioned a Goucher College poll released Monday, which stated about 62 percent of Black residents already received at least one dose of the vaccine, or plan to get it “as soon as they can.” The figure increases to 68% for white residents.
The poll surveyed 725 Maryland adults from Feb. 23-28, with a 3.6-point margin of error.
“I think there needs to be a lot more to address root causes why Black Marylanders are being vaccinated less than white Marylanders,” Lam said. “I’m not hearing many answers here.”
Then Lam had a few direct questions for Schrader.
“So, you will take full responsibility when we have more vaccines present to be able to ensure that all Marylanders will have equal opportunity to be vaccinated?”
“Sen. Lam, I’m a military officer. I’ve served this country for 26 years. I’ve been all over the world,” Schrader responded. “The buck stops with me.”