- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2021

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 state-run 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 pre-registration 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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