Other than supply, equity continues to be one of the biggest issues plaguing the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Maryland.
Gov. Larry Hogan launched his statewide equity plan last week, but lawmakers and those helping vulnerable residents secure a vaccination appointment say much more needs to be done.
Many people are looking to Annapolis and the governor to make the process more fair, and they believe change starts with better oversight of the state’s retail pharmacies.
“The people that we are helping in our vulnerable communities are confronting, are facing discriminatory situations at the different vaccine sites,” said Tanya Aguilar of Vaccine Hunters.
As members of the Vaccine Hunters, Aguilar and Maria Peterson help people in vulnerable communities secure vaccine appointments. Recently, that work has taken them to local retail pharmacies where they’ve seen the inequity in the vaccine’s roll out firsthand.
“The main issue we have been seeing is the extreme questioning,” Peterson said.
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The vaccinated population in D.C. may be overestimated in this map because some non-residents who work in D.C. are included in the totals.
“But then we’re hearing about cases where they’re asked for social security, they’re asked for W2s, they’re asking for teacher certificates,” she said.
The group identified almost a half dozen of these incidents at retail pharmacies and hospitals in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
In each case the person was able to secure the vaccine but only because they had a Vaccine Hunter to advocate for them.
“We don’t know about the countless people who didn’t have someone to call,” Aguilar said.
The group is urging the state to require all retail pharmacies to post clear multilingual signage detailing documentation requirements and information on what questions the pharmacist can ask. They also want a multilingual equity hotline created to report issues
Both CVS and Giant said they are committed to equitably distributing the vaccine, especially in communities of color. Some Montgomery County leaders want the governor to use his recently announced statewide equity plan to ensure retail pharmacies keep that promise.
“These stories are going to continue unless we have some set parameters in place,” Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice said.
In Prince George’s County, the rate of Black residents being vaccinated continues to lag. At a hearing Monday, state Sen. Jim Rosapepe asked acting Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader to explain why. Schrader listed transportation and trust before Rosapepe interrupted.
“People want to get vaccinated,” he said. “They’re not not trusting vaccinations. They want to get vaccinated.”
Lawmakers in Prince George’s County are calling for the mass vaccination site in Bowie to reserve more doses for people who live in the county.