BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Only 8.2% of people in Maryland have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 14.9% have received one shot. Gov. Larry Hogan has blamed the lack of supply. Many are frustrated over the scarcity of available online appointments.

“Vaccine surfing is a flawed public health strategy. We’ve all come to that conclusion. People with free time and computer skills get to the front of the line,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.

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The race to vaccinate is growing even more urgent with the Centers for Disease Control now reporting 100 cases of more contagious COVID strains in the state.

 

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who once headed both the city and state health departments, said Hogan must address inequities.

 

“There are a lot of people who just have not been able to access the system with the approach that has been taken so far. People who are at high risk of actually getting COVID,” Dr. Sharfstein told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “This is very frustrating for a lot of people, and like many others, I’m getting calls about, ‘Can I find vaccine? Can you help me?’ and there’s very little to do.”

Dr. Sharfstein now works for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post along with former Baltimore health commissioners Dr. Leana Wen and Dr. Peter Bielenson. It noted, “When the goal is equity but the reality is nearly fourfold variation, there’s a problem. In Maryland, this problem has a racial dimension. Counties with high vaccination rates are predominantly White. Those with lower rates are more likely to have larger populations of color. By our calculation based on the state health department data, White Marylanders are being vaccinated at a rate more than twice that of Black Marylanders, and only around 4 percent of inoculations have gone to Latinos.”

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And while the governor has said Baltimore is getting a larger share of vaccines in proportion to the city’s number of residents, Sharfstein said a large portion of those doses are going to hospitals where some non-residents get the shots.

“We have a regional hospital system in Maryland. There are 11 hospitals located in Baltimore City, but they don’t just serve Baltimore City. If you count that vaccine as against the city’s total allocation, there’s going to be less available for Baltimore City residents and that’s not fair,” Sharfstein said. “The problem isn’t giving vaccines to the hospitals. The problem is counting that against Baltimore City’s total. That doesn’t make sense.”

Tuesday, Gov. Hogan defended his controversial response to Hellgren’s question last week about Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s demand that Hogan reserve some doses at state-run mass vaccination sites for city residents. Hogan said at the time that Baltimore was getting more vaccines than the city was “entitled to.”

“My comment was simply a factual one—simply the city had a higher allocation. They had the number one allocation as opposed to they were the fourth highest population—but they received the most allocation. But, look, I know there were concerns about the way it was misinterpreted. We’ve been very focused on equity,” Hogan said.

Hogan has agreed to prioritize appointments at the Baltimore Convention Center for underserved Baltimore zip codes.

The governor will hold a press briefing Thursday at 1:30 pm to address questions about equity.

Another issue involves cheating the system. To speed the vaccine process and make sure no doses are wasted, the state relies on what acting health commissioner Dennis Schrader called an ‘honor system’ for those who have appointments.

People are screened for their eligibility, but if you do not have proof you are eligible, you will still get the shot. You just have to sign an affidavit.

“In that case, it’s an honor system. We’re hoping to appeal to people’s sense of integrity. If somebody shows up and they say they’re eligible and they have documentation, then we’re going to want to put that shot in their arm, but if they sign the affidavit, we would also put the shot in their arm because we want to get people vaccinated,” Schrader told Maryland state senators at a February oversight hearing.

Maryland is also working to expand a system that texts people on waiting lists when an appointment is available.

The state is still building a new single website for appointments at Maryland’s mass vaccination sites to replace the current patchwork of individual registration websites.

It is expected to go live later this month. “We don’t have a specific day. We are working quickly. It’s coming soon—the next couple of weeks,” said Steve Kolbe, the chief information technology officer for the health department. “…We are truly working around the clock, 24/7.”

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.