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Officials in D.C. region try to combat vaccine hesitancy while seeking more doses

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) greets Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) on Friday at a mass vaccination site at Six Flags.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) greets Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) on Friday at a mass vaccination site at Six Flags. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

The District announced Monday that it will host coronavirus vaccine clinics at a Baptist church as governments in the Washington region looked for new ways to equitably distribute shots while facing hesitancy in some communities hit hardest by the virus.

The city will host clinics at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Ward 7, offering more access to vaccine where the virus’s toll has been the highest and where lower percentages of seniors have been vaccinated. Localities began the week struggling to inoculate residents as they continued to request more doses of the vaccine.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) hosted a virtual town hall Monday with Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s highest-ranking infectious-disease expert, as part of the county’s campaign to assuage mistrust of the vaccine.

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Fauci answered questions from health officials in the ­majority-Black county who say they are receiving questions about whether vaccines have been linked to fatalities, which vaccine is most effective and whether the quickly developed vaccines can be trusted. Health officials said they want to assure communities the vaccines are safe.

“The concern on the part of Brown and Black people about engaging in a medical program that is run by the federal government is understandable,” Fauci said. “The first thing we need to do is to respect the concern of people of color who have hesitancy — but at the same time to explain to them that the ethical safeguards that have been put into place since Tuskegee and the Henrietta Lacks incident are such that those types of things would be impossible under today’s conditions.”

Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services received 1,000 fewer vaccine doses this week than last week.

Raymond Crowel, head of the health department, said Monday that state officials have not told the county why it received 4,500 first doses Tuesday after receiving 5,500 last week.

“We’re very concerned,” said Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D-District 5). “We weren’t getting enough to begin with, and this only makes things more difficult.”

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Michael Ricci, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said in a statement that “local health departments are one facet of an expanding distribution network.” The state allocates vaccine doses to counties based on population, but those doses might not necessarily go to the local health department. They also go to pharmacies, hospitals and retail providers.

Ricci said the state this week is providing an additional 2,500 doses to Suburban Hospital, which is vaccinating selected patients, residents over 65 and others in priority groups 1A, B and C. The clinics run by the county government are still limiting vaccine appointments to those at least 75 years old.

The county has a “good track record” in administering shots, Hucker said, adding that he is seeking more clarity on the county’s reduced allotment.

Montgomery officials also said Monday that they have asked the Hogan administration to consider the fairgrounds in Gaithersburg as a location for a mass vaccination site. The state last week opened two such sites — one in Prince George’s and another in Baltimore City.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) on Monday asked Johnson & Johnson to sell the city 300,000 doses of its single-shot vaccine, seeking to bypass the federal government. The vaccine, which is awaiting authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, is being produced by Baltimore-based Emergent BioSolutions.

“This is about doing what’s right and what’s needed for the city,” Scott said in a news conference Monday. “We’re hopeful Johnson & Johnson will recognize they are making this vaccine here in Baltimore and it would be a shame if Baltimoreans didn’t directly benefit from it.”

The Anne Arundel County Department of Health announced Monday that second-dose vaccination clinics scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday morning will be delayed until at least Saturday because of a lack of supply. First-dose vaccine clinics are unaffected.

In Virginia, Loudoun County Public Schools announced Monday that it had given 10,500 employees first vaccinations as of last week and will begin administering second doses on Friday.

In the District, Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt announced that Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church will vaccinate 200 D.C. residents across two clinics this week as part of the pilot program and that faith leaders will help them register for appointments. The new clinics were paired with an announcement that the city will open vaccination appointments at noon and 7 p.m. on Mondays for child-care workers, independent school staffers and charter school staffers.

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Nesbitt pointed out how places of worship have served a historic role in educating Black communities about health issues. She said her team is hopeful that faith leaders will help to reach city residents who have not tried to register for a vaccination, because they are intimidated by the process or because they might be more comfortable registering with someone from their church community.

“Engaging [faith communities] and including them on our vaccine confidence effort was a natural progression,” Nesbitt said. “Serving as a natural extension of their faith work, the communities in which they are embedded could help us reach residents in particular in Wards 5, 7 and 8 who have not gone to the website, not called the call center.”

Nesbitt had said that storage and handling requirements might create logistical issues with pop-up clinics. But she said that Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church had served as a testing site and that leaders there have established the necessary privacy, safety and vaccine handling protocols for a clinic. Nesbitt indicated the program could be expanded if the community is receptive.

Asked about the possibility of drive-through clinics or clinics at larger venues, Nesbitt pointed to limitations in vaccine supply. As of Saturday, health officials had administered about 68,000 of the 94,100 or so vaccine doses the city has received. The District will receive about 11,500 more doses this week.

She said it is more equitable to distribute the vaccine supply across multiple sites in the city rather than a singular large location. A mass site at Nationals Park would use up the District’s supply while presenting transportation issues and other problems for people with strict work schedules, Nesbitt said.

“Once the supply opens and we’re getting tens of thousands of doses on a weekly basis, it could make sense to do that,” she said.

Rachel Chason and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.