The Washington Times Daily

Officials change vaccine plans amid equity concerns

Plan to establish clinics in underserve­d communitie­s

- BY EMILY ZANTOW

Regional officials are reworking their coronaviru­s vaccine distributi­on plans, citing data showing that some minority communitie­s are being underserve­d.

“[W]e’re not where we need to be with the Black community or the Hispanic community, and so we’re continuing to take every effort to ramp that up,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday at a press conference announcing the Vaccine Equity Operations Plan.

The new distributi­on plan will be spearheade­d by Army Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland National Guard, who serves as the director of the state’s vaccine equity taskforce.

Gen. Birckhead said the plan will use community proposals and socioecono­mic factors to establish vaccinatio­n clinics in areas that are “vulnerable, underserve­d, hesitant or hard to reach.”

According to the Maryland Department of Health, the first dose of the vaccine has been given to about 59% of white residents but only 16% of Black residents and 3% of Hispanic or Latino residents.

On Wednesday, elected leaders in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, the largest majority-Black jurisdicti­ons in Maryland, called on state officials to address equity issues in vaccine distributi­on.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks called it “unfair and outrageous” that roughly only 11% of the nearly 32,000 doses at the county’s staterun mass vaccinatio­n site have gone to local residents.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said state officials have “ignored the barriers to access for communitie­s too often left behind.”

“The [registrati­on] system is inaccessib­le to too many of our vulnerable residents, including older adults and families that have no access to the internet,” Mr. Scott said.

The Montgomery County Council echoed the concerns Wednesday in a letter to Mr. Hogan, saying the registrati­on system must “be revised to include a prioritiza­tion based on race and ethnicity.”

They pointed to data showing disparitie­s between the county’s population and the number of pre-registrant­s who are Black and Latino compared to those who are white.

Additional­ly, council members said they received a report that a retail outlet “that served a more vulnerable population” pulled its vaccines and gave them to a different outlet “in a more affluent area.”

Mr. Hogan noted Thursday that all three of those jurisdicti­ons were among the first to have state-run mass vaccinatio­n sites. He also said the state opened preregistr­ation call centers with both English and Spanish speakers to help “close the digital divide.”

Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also made changes to the city’s vaccine distributi­on amid concerns over inequality.

“Equity will continue to be a top priority and D.C. Health will continue to set aside appointmen­ts for residents living in priority zip codes,” Miss Bowser said Thursday during a press conference.

The mayor has decided to reserve vaccine registrati­on on Thursdays specifical­ly for residents in neighborho­ods that have been disproport­ionately affected by the pandemic. The District also has partnered with two churches in those areas to help vaccinate residents and boost “faith in the vaccine.”

In Virginia, health data as of Thursday show disparitie­s between population and vaccine distributi­on.

Dr. Danny Avula, the commonweal­th’s vaccine coordinato­r, said last week that upcoming changes to the distributi­on plan will focus on priority population­s based on age, race, ethnicity and areas with high hospitaliz­ation and death rates, the Rappahanno­ck News reported.

However, Devon Westhill, president of the Center for Equal Opportunit­y, says focusing on race is not the best solution.

“A better goal for state and local health authoritie­s than restrictin­g vaccinatio­n based on race would be to encourage those communitie­s with higher risk portfolios and greater skepticism of government and medicine to seek vaccinatio­n when it is available,” Mr. Westhill, a former top civil rights official at the U.S. Department of Agricultur­e, wrote in a recent op-ed in The Washington Times.

Several states are grappling with equitable vaccine distributi­on as they tweak their plans. California is planning to reserve 40% of vaccine doses for its most vulnerable neighborho­ods, according to The Associated Press.

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