Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson is criticizing the state health department for a slow vaccine rollout and blaming the governor’s pick to run the department, Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader.
Ferguson told reporters Tuesday that the Senate is unlikely to confirm Schrader as health secretary unless vaccine distribution improves.
Schrader was named acting secretary on Dec. 1, before vaccines were available to Maryland.
“Since Acting Secretary Schrader’s appointment, one thing has unfortunately become very clear: Maryland is ineffectively administering vaccines in an accountable manner,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson pointed to data showing that the state administered just over 7,000 doses on Saturday and just over 1,500 on Sunday — far short of the 12,000-a-day rate the Health Department promised legislators they were achieving during a meeting last week.
According to the state’s data, 551,700 vaccine doses have been distributed to providers, but only 265,657 have been administered to patients, a rate of about 48%.
Ferguson referred to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which show that the state has received 565,125 doses, but only about 34% of those have been administered. According to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, the CDC’s data is three days older than the state’s.
To try to close that gap and hold Schrader accountable, Ferguson said he is creating a Vaccination Oversight Work Group that will meet weekly.
“At the end of the day, we need to know what's kept all vaccines from being used this week, and every week and what we're doing to get them administered safely and efficiently,” Ferguson said.
The group will require the Maryland Department of Health to provide data on vaccinations, including the average wait time and the number of people trained to administer vaccines. The group will also look at problems in the vaccine supply chain, as well as at both access to and confidence in the vaccine among minority communities.
“Marylanders deserve nothing less than a bold, intentional and comprehensive approach to vaccine administration,” Ferguson said. "We expect acting Secretary Schrader, as the leader of the Maryland Department of Health, to deliver just that, whether by the department directly or through logistical support to local health departments and other organizations responsible for administering the vaccine.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said the legislature not confirming Schrader would be a “the worst thing that they could possibly do.”
Schrader is “the general that has led us through this incredible crisis, that built the 6,000 additional [hospital] surge beds, that got the 6.4 million people tested, and that is now leading the charge on the vaccinations that we have to do 12 million of,” Hogan said.
In a statement, Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said Maryland has administered more doses than 32 other states.
“This is going to take some time, and as the governor has repeatedly cautioned, you’re going to see stories about not enough appointments, long lines, waiting lists, and demand exceeding supply,” Ricci wrote.