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Maryland launches campaign to foster confidence in coronavirus vaccine

Gov. Larry Hogan (R), right, and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), left, talk with a vaccine recipient as they visit a Giant pharmacy vaccination site Wednesday in Capitol Heights.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), right, and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), left, talk with a vaccine recipient as they visit a Giant pharmacy vaccination site Wednesday in Capitol Heights. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Maryland launched a campaign Friday to convince people who are hesitant about getting the coronavirus vaccine to take the shot, while frustrations were on display in D.C. over the arduous process of securing an appointment.

The GoVax awareness campaign will consist of television, radio and billboard advertisements that will include medical professionals and community leaders. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said state officials began working on the campaign in December but launched it now as more vaccine supply is becoming available.

“The only thing that will bring this pandemic to an end is the safe and effective covid-19 vaccines,” Hogan said during a news conference in Baltimore. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep you, your family and your community healthy and safe.”

Hogan was joined Friday by campaign participants, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D), Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) and University of Maryland at Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski.

Peña-Melnyk said the campaign is personal for her. In the past year she has lost her father, a cousin and two friends to the virus. Hrabowski said he and his wife, Jacqueline, participated in clinical trials and want to spread the word that the vaccine is safe.

Hogan said the campaign’s focus will be “tackling the initial vaccine hesitancy that we see in minority populations and underserved communities, which have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic.”

Few states are accurately tracking coronavirus vaccinations by race. Some aren’t at all.

About 35 percent of coronavirus-related deaths in Maryland since the start of the pandemic were Black residents. Less than 15 percent of the more than 406,000 vaccine doses administered in the state have been given to Black residents.

“We have supply chain issues everywhere in the country, but in minority communities the additional problem is people are refusing to take the vaccine and that’s why this marketing campaign is so important,” he said.

As part of the campaign, several community leaders and former legislators received vaccinations Friday. Among them were former state senators Larry Young and Nathaniel J. McFadden, both of Baltimore.

McFadden, 74, said he and his wife, Rachel, 72, were inoculated after he received a call last week from Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) asking if he had been vaccinated. McFadden said he had registered but had not received an appointment.

Rutherford suggested he be part of the effort to encourage others to get a vaccination, then helped McFadden get scheduled.

“This is an effort he asked me to be a part of to spread the word,” said McFadden, who served in the state Senate for nearly 25 years until 2018.

D.C. reports improvements in equitable access to coronavirus vaccine

Hogan also announced Friday that Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead will lead the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force, which will be responsible for ensuring vaccine doses are administered equitably. Maryland’s congressional delegation also wrote a letter Friday to Hogan urging that doses be distributed equitably.

The Maryland public awareness campaign comes as jurisdictions across the greater Washington region are unable to supply enough vaccine doses to meet demand.

In D.C., a parade of citizens expressed their dissatisfaction Friday surrounding the process of getting vaccinated.

During an all-day hearing hosted by the D.C. Council’s health committee, senior citizens said they have waited on hold in phone queues hundreds of callers long and stumbled through a confusing online process.

Many who testified made suggestions about how the process could improve, from mass vaccination clinics to a waiting list. Staff from several residential buildings for seniors called for on-site vaccination clinics at independent-living communities, in addition to existing clinics at assisted-living and nursing facilities.

Other witnesses called for moving certain groups to the front of the line, including restaurant workers, sanitation workers, people with disabilities and parents of children who are attending school in person.

Anna Landre, 22, who is immunocompromised but doesn’t yet qualify for a vaccine, said she fears for her safety now that the health-care workers who treat her have been vaccinated but seem to be acting less cautiously.

“Vaccinating my care workers but not me has put me more at risk than ever, and I’ve heard the same from my friends across the city,” she said. “A lot of us in the [disability] community are more terrified than we ever have been.”

The largest number of witnesses advocated for child-care workers to become eligible for the vaccine, in line with D.C. public and charter schoolteachers who started receiving vaccinations this week.

Hours later, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced vaccination eligibility changes Friday evening to include that group. She said that beginning at noon Monday, residents who work in person for a licensed child-care provider or independent school in the city will be eligible to book a vaccination appointment with One Medical.

Known coronavirus deaths and cases in the Washington region

The greater Washington region on Friday added 6,400 new coronavirus infections and 115 fatalities. Virginia reported 4,238 cases and 71 deaths, Maryland reported 1,880 cases and 39 deaths, and the District reported 282 cases and five deaths.

Infection rates continued to tick downward across the region, following a trend that began more than two week ago. The seven-day rolling average of new cases across D.C., Maryland and Virginia stood Friday at 7,055 — down from a Jan. 12 peak of 8,698 cases.

Even as the number of infections has dropped slightly, more children in D.C. are developing a rare coronavirus complication, according to the chief of infectious diseases at Children’s National Hospital.

The complication, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, happens when certain children who already have been exposed to the virus come into contact with it again. The immune system recognizes the virus, but fights too hard against it, leaving children with high fevers, blood pressure problems and even cardiac complications.

The syndrome can be treated with medications that tone down the immune response, but doctors have to act quickly. Children’s National hasn’t reported deaths from the syndrome, but is seeing a recent increase in cases.

The first wave of the infections occurred April through June, and about 60 children were seen with the syndrome, said Roberta DeBiasi, the chief of infectious diseases at Children’s National. But during this second wave, which began in December, 30 cases already have been identified.

She said the best way to lower hospitalizations for adults and children is for the public to follow health guidelines and for adults to get vaccinated when they become eligible.

Vaccine doses arrived this week for members of Maryland’s General Assembly, along with the state’s attorney general and treasurer, as part of a “continuity of government” phase of inoculations.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said that as a healthy 37-year-old, he felt deeply conflicted about agreeing to take his shot. Ultimately, he said, he decided he would follow the advice he gives to constituents: get the vaccination when it’s available.

“I really struggled on this,” said Ferguson, who is second in line to run state government. “My parents have not been able to get a vaccine.”

Ferguson did not answer questions about how many senators have been vaccinated. All but 10 of the 141 House of Delegates members agreed to be vaccinated, said Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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