ANNAPOLIS — Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday the state’s National Guard will help local health departments with the distribution of coronavirus vaccines as part of an effort to rapidly increase the number of inoculations.
Hogan also issued an executive order for all vaccine providers to report data within 24 hours on the state’s online vaccine portal, ImmuNet.
Additionally, hospitals must use at least 75% of their vaccination allocations or risk receiving fewer doses in the future.
“You just can’t leave [COVID-19 vaccines] sitting in freezers at the hospital,” Hogan said. “If [hospitals are] not going to use them, we’re just going to send them somewhere else.”
However, there isn’t any specific penalty or deadline if county and Baltimore City hospital officials don’t administer the vaccines. That also goes for CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens, which have federal contracts to handle the vaccines at nursing homes.
“We’re not here to try and force people to move at a rate faster than they feel is safe and effective,” Hogan said. “But we want them to know [the vaccines] just can’t sit around forever because other people are desperately in need of those vaccines.”
State officials also released updates to the phase-in plan for vaccine distribution.
In phase 1B, adults 75 and older will be vaccinated, beginning by the end of the month. Other qualifying individuals include residents and staffers in assisted-living and group homes, teachers and those needed for “continuity of government.”
Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s acting deputy public health secretary, said “high-risk inmates” with underlying health conditions would also be part of this phase. She said the rest of those incarcerated in general population “would likely be in phase 2.”
Before the second phase, the state plans to incorporate phase 1C, scheduled to start in March. These Marylanders would include adults ages 65 to 74, public safety and health workers not covered in phase 1A, grocery store employees and public transit workers.
No date has been set for the second phase, which would include those ages 16 to 64 with severe illnesses and essential workers such as those in the utility, transportation and infrastructure fields.
Hogan said about 1.8 million, or 30%, of the state’s residents would receive a COVID-19 vaccine by May.
The state began administering the vaccines Dec. 14, with the first recipients including five health care workers in the University of Maryland Medical System.
According to state data, health departments in five counties — Calvert, Caroline, Howard, Montgomery and St. Mary’s — administered at least 80% of its vaccine.
The two majority-Black jurisdictions of Prince George’s County and Baltimore City administered 4.5% and 2.3% respectively, ranking near the bottom of the state.
That’s why Hogan said the Maryland National Guard will begin Wednesday helping various jurisdictions with logistics, call-center assistance and administering vaccines.
“We’re going to try and provide them with every little bit of help we can,” he said of the jurisdictions with sputtering vaccine rollouts. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to help them get them up to speed.”
The state health department reported 1,956 new confirmed coronavirus cases Tuesday, raising the statewide total since the pandemic’s outset to nearly 290,000.
Over the past 24-hour period, another 20 patients were hospitalized. The current number of hospitalizations — 1,771 — is second-highest since the state began tracking that data in late March.
Prince George’s leads the state with 56,416 confirmed cases and is one of just two counties with more than 1,000 related deaths, along with neighboring Montgomery.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to provide an update of Prince George’s ongoing response to the pandemic and its vaccine distribution.