2021 | Government

In letter to Hogan, council insists on more focus on racial inequities in vaccine distribution

State announced equity plan on Thursday

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Montgomery County Council members on Thursday called on Gov. Larry Hogan to focus more on racial inequities and health disparities in the statewide COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

In Montgomery County, officials have formed a racial equity framework for testing, care and vaccine distribution, they wrote in a letter sent on Thursday. Specific ZIP codes with the highest rates of cases and deaths have been targeted.

“Communities of color must be a priority when it comes to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and we now know that it is also imperative that younger members of those communities get vaccinated sooner,” they said. “Unfortunately, we are seeing the same trend of racial inequity in both the vaccine distributions and pre-registration system.”

The letter, spearheaded by Council Member Will Jawando, was released a few hours before Hogan and other state officials announced a new plan from the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force.

The state’s plan includes accepting and reviewing proposals from community groups interested in sponsoring a vaccine site for a vulnerable area hard hit by COVID-19.

The proposals would include information on the group and private partners, location and facility, as well as a plan for how to operate the vaccine events.

The state’s plan involves mobile vaccination sites that will be launched in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

State officials expect the plan to address disparities in vaccine distribution.

Several factors will be considered when selecting reviewing proposals, including the number of residents with an annual income below $49,000, the percentage of minority and unemployed residents, and the number of people age 65 and older.

In its letter, the council noted data on COVID-19 deaths and projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations that estimates that the U.S. life expectancy has dropped by 1.1 years . The life expectancy for the Black population has specifically dropped 3.6 years, while the Latino life expectancy has dropped 2.5 years.

White county residents account for 66% of those preregistered for a vaccine for a county-run clinic. Another 9% are Latino and 8% are Black.

Council members said the state-run registration system is “difficult to navigate and requires people to have access to the internet and the flexibility to sit for long periods of time to register for the vaccine.”

Several retail outlets and pharmacies have had no protocol for racial equity for the distribution, which has caused those with more access to come out on top, they wrote. The county received a report of one provider pulling vaccines from a location that served a more vulnerable population to give them to another location in a more “affluent area,” the letter said.

The council asked that the state:
● Make racial equity a priority for all vaccine distribution points in Maryland
● Require all vaccine distributors to be fully transparent and report their distributions on a weekly basis based on race, age and ZIP code of residents
● Coordinate with the county government to select a mass vaccine site
● Increase the number of vaccines to the county
● Make the vaccine available to younger people of color in all tiers, considering and adjusting for the disproportionality in death rates and age

“Accountability and effective leadership are the keys to putting an end to these disparities,” they wrote. “It is imperative that our COVID-19 response provides equitable access to health care that includes a vaccine registration and distribution system that prioritizes our communities of color who are most negatively impacted. We cannot wait any longer; the time to act is now.”

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