2021 | Government

County leaders’ request for COVID-19 vaccine dose priority is ‘absurd,’ Hogan says

State will continue to follow federal guidelines with allocation, governor says

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during a press conference on Feb. 11, 2021.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday called a request from local leaders across the state to give priority to county and municipal clinics for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine “absurd.”

In a letter sent to Hogan on Monday, 24 jurisdictions, including Montgomery County, said they want the state to fulfill vaccine dose requests from local health departments before allocating any to private providers and state-run sites. They also asked Hogan to provide more advance notice of how many doses they can expect each week from the state.

But in a press conference Hogan rebuffed the idea of counties receiving priority for dose allocations, saying it would hinder access to vaccinations by not evenly spreading them across multiple providers.

“Some local leaders have indicated that they want us to go backwards and simply give these 24 local health departments a monopoly on the doses,” he said. “That is absurd and simply not a realistic way to vaccinate millions of people all across the state.”

The letter, sent through the Maryland Association of Counties, was signed by 33 officials – at least one from each jurisdiction — including Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council President Tom Hucker.

The officials asked for the state to increase transparency , funding and efficiency for the vaccine rollout. The changes would “make the process simpler, faster, and more user-friendly for residents,” they wrote.

The local leaders also asked that the state publish private provider allocations by distribution site to demonstrate that the counties are receiving their share of the doses.

In addition, they said a statewide vaccine registration system would allow residents to have a “one-stop” preregistration process and prevent confusion of how to register for vaccines through multiple sites.

Hogan defended the allocation plan on Thursday and said it is in line with the federal and state vaccination guidelines. Each county receives doses based on population, but only about 30% go to health departments. The rest are given to hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other providers, Hogan said.

Hogan used Montgomery County as an example and said the county has received 89,000 doses. Of those, 27% have been administered by the county health department and 74% by other providers.

“So when you hear — which we’ve heard over the past week or so — county leaders say that we only get ‘X’ number of doses for our county, it’s false,” Hogan said. “They’re actually referring to what their local health department has received, not what their county has received.”

Montgomery County officials have acknowledged that the county’s allocation is divided among the local health department and other providers, but said the number the county clinics need more doses.

Hogan said the state normally receives notice of how many doses it will receive from the federal government each week between Thursday and Saturday.

The state then determines how to divide the distribution among 24 jurisdictions, hospitals and other providers and informs local governments of their allocation on Fridays or Saturdays.

Montgomery County receives its shipments on Tuesdays each week. County officials have raised concerns about not knowing their weekly allocation until days before they receive the shipment, causing staff members to scramble to set up vaccine clinics with the proper number of appointments.

Hogan said he and other governors asked the CDC to provide two-week projections on how many doses each will receive. In turn, the state will begin providing four-week projections to county governments for allocations for county clinics.

“Every state, every county and every city in America is facing the exact same problem,” Hogan said. “We are simply not receiving enough vaccines to meet the demand.”

The state receives about 11,000 doses per day for the more than 2 million residents and workers currently eligible for the vaccine in the state.

“Just because you may be eligible does not mean that a vaccine or an appointment for a vaccine is currently available to you,” Hogan said. “We’ve been told by the federal government that this problem will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.”

“The basic problem is pretty simple. We need more damn vaccines … Unfortunately, we have no control whatsoever over the supply problem. Only the federal government can buy the vaccines and only the federal government can send us the vaccines,” he said.

The state currently operates two mass vaccination sites in the state. One is at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and the other is at the Baltimore Convention Center.

An additional site will be open at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Feb. 25. More sites are expected to open in western Maryland, southern Maryland, and on the Eastern Shore, in March but the locations have not been announced yet.

Montgomery County officials have lobbied state health leaders to place a mass vaccination site in the county, which has offered multiple sites for use, including the county fairgrounds.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.