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Maryland to broaden vaccine eligibility Tuesday; residents 16 and up eligible by April 27

Kassidy Grimes, the medical assistant at a primary care office in Waldorf, readies doses of the Moderna vaccine for some of the practice’s patients as acting Maryland health secretary Dennis Schrader looks on. (Erin Cox/The Washington Post)
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Maryland on Tuesday will make residents 60 and older eligible for the coronavirus vaccine — the first of four eligibility expansions that will allow all residents 16 and older to qualify for the shot starting April 27.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced the changes as President Biden is pledging a significant boost in the vaccine supply and has asked states to make all adults eligible no later than May 1.

“I am hopeful that they are being straightforward on their promises,” Hogan said.

The second wave of Maryland’s expansion, on March 30, includes residents 16 and over who have underlying medical conditions that exacerbate the effects of the coronavirus (the state did not release a list of those specific conditions on Thursday).

More essential workers and residents 55 and older will be eligible starting April 13, followed two weeks later by all remaining residents 16 and older.

“We are one step closer to reaching that light at the end of the tunnel,” Hogan said, noting that two-thirds of all Marylanders who are 65 and older have been vaccinated.

He cautioned, however, that even with increased supply during Phase 2 of the rollout, demand will continue to greatly exceed available appointments for weeks to come.

Biden sets nation on seven-week sprint to near-universal vaccine access

Hogan has been widely criticized over the vaccine rollout in recent weeks, as state and local elected officials railed about a decentralized distribution system that left many residents struggling to find or figure out how to book appointments. Officials have also raised concerns about fair distribution, citing wide racial and geographic disparities.

The state is working to address both issues, developing additional mass vaccination sites that Hogan said will be announced in the next few days, targeting doses to harder-to-reach communities and launching a pilot program that allows primary care physicians to give shots to patients in their offices.

“We’re building an infrastructure step by step,” acting health secretary Dennis Schrader said in an interview Thursday morning. “And then when the vaccines really ramp up, it’ll just explode.”

Asked how he would avoid the frustration brought on by demand far outstripping supply, Schrader said the state was “running analytics” and still seeking solutions. A preregistration system for mass vaccination sites now allows eligible people to sign up and be notified when an appointment is available. People age 60 and older can register immediately.

Seventeen private primary care doctors each received 100 vaccine doses this week, and 20 more will join the program next week, as the state tries to reach high-risk patients unlikely to rush out to compete for a chance to get a shot.

By May 1, roughly 400 primary care doctors across the state are expected to be able to offer vaccines at their offices, amounting to 40,000 doses per week, Schrader said.

Maryland is also giving $12 million to the state’s hospitals to run community-based vaccination clinics, Hogan announced, and deploying mobile vaccination clinics to rural parts of the state.

“As we start to grow the volume, what we don’t want to do is leave people behind. So now’s the time to build this capability,” Schrader said. “The thing I've been worried about, the governor is worried about, is making absolutely sure when that supply goes up, that we’re ready to move.”

Hogan’s decision to reopen Maryland surprised local officials, business leaders

For a second time this week, Hogan refused to commit to opening a mass vaccination site in populous Montgomery County, even though leaders there have aggressively lobbied for a site and announced Monday that state officials said it was coming.

The governor said local politicians “jumped the gun” in announcing plans for such a clinic in Germantown. But he did not rule out the possibility.

Maryland added 1,113 new coronavirus cases and 14 additional deaths Thursday. New cases in the District continued to decline compared with the previous week, with two deaths and 81 additional cases added Thursday.

In Virginia, cases rose dramatically Thursday compared with the day before, with 2,082 new cases representing a 56 percent one-day increase. Virginia also recorded 28 new deaths. Single-day jumps in the number of cases reported are not uncommon, as state health departments deal with technical glitches and clear backlogs.

In Maryland, Hogan surprised local officials and business leaders last week when he announced plans to lift all capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses, while leaving mask and social distancing requirements in place.

He defended that decision Thursday, saying he wants to strike a balance between the economic harm of closing businesses and the health risk of lifting mask mandates.

“There are states that are moving too quickly. We’re just not one of them,” he said. “I think — I’ve said — the states that are lifting any kind of distancing, lifting masking, are making a mistake.”

Confusion and chaos: Inside the vaccine rollout in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Earlier in the day, at a small primary care office in Waldorf, Md., doctor Nalin Mathur showed off the new freezer he purchased to house vaccine doses for his patients. He recounted how a 61-year-old patient broke down in tears when he offered her a shot.

“She had been trying to get ahold of vaccine,” Mathur said. “She was calling every day.”

Mathur’s solo practice is one of the 17 participants in the pilot program launched this week, chosen in part because vaccination rates in Charles County lag far behind the rest of the state.

For weeks, he said, he’d been trying to set up appointments for patients online, pre-registering people where he could and at other times hunting on pharmacy websites during office visits. “It’s very difficult to get any appointment, extremely.”

Now he has 100 doses of Moderna a week to offer patients. He knows who is most vulnerable, who needs the help, and who is most likely to say yes.

Mathur said he began calling older patients and those with underlying health problems to come in, and so far 70 percent of those he has called agreed to be vaccinated.

He expects to run out of doses before the next shipment arrives.

Schrader, the acting health secretary, stopped by to see how the program was working, beaming as he watched a medical assistant draw vaccine into syringes for patients expected to come in that day.

“The people that we’re trying to reach, they’re not going anywhere else.”

Earlier versions of this article incorrectly said which ages will be eligible for vaccines in Maryland starting April 13. It is people 55 and older.

Maryland’s governor says Black residents don’t want to get vaccinated. But thousands are seeking shots.

One county has twice as many covid-19 deaths. The other does much better with vaccinations.

What you need to know about the vaccine rollout in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

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