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Maryland Governor Expands Vaccine Eligibility; All Adults Eligible By April 27

The vaccination site at the Baltimore Convention Center is one of six mass vaccination sites run by the Maryland Department of Health.
Sarah Kim
The vaccination site at the Baltimore Convention Center is one of six mass vaccination sites run by the Maryland Department of Health.

Maryland will open eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to more residents beginning Tuesday, and to all residents at least 16 years old by the end of April, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday.

Residents at least 60 years old can begin pre-registering immediately for an appointment at a state-run mass vaccination site, and they will be eligible to get a vaccine beginning March 23.

One week later, on March 30, the state will open eligibility to all residents at least 16 years old who have health conditions that increase their risk for severe illness if they get COVID-19.

Two weeks after that, on April 13, eligibility expands to include residents 55 or older and any remaining essential workers who have not been vaccinated.

All other adults will become eligible no later than April 27, Hogan said at a press conference.

But for now, vaccines remain limited.

“Just because you become eligible for a vaccine does not mean that you can immediately get a vaccine,” Hogan said. “We can’t schedule appointments for vaccines that we don't have or that don't yet exist.”

Hogan said he expects the supply to increase, even surpassing demand before long. The federal government has promised an increase in the coming weeks.

“I really believe that if they deliver on what they say they're going to deliver that April is going to look a heck of a lot different than March,” Hogan said.

In the meantime, the state’s six mass vaccination sites will continue to prioritize people in Phase 1 — the people already eligible — even as the state moves into Phase 2.

The state also is expanding where residents can get vaccines.

Hogan announced the start of a new pilot program that will allow primary care providers to administer vaccines. At first, the program will include 37 practices statewide, “including ones that serve largely African American and Hispanic patients and those that serve communities with less geographic access to other vaccination sites,” Hogan said.

Primary care providers are uniquely situated to improve the state’s vaccination rates because they “have a special relationship with their patients and who can address issues of vaccine hesitancy when necessary in a personal way,” said Howard Haft, executive director of the Maryland Primary Care Program at the state Department of Health. “They have the ability to directly reach out to their patients in an equitable way and identify those who are in most need.”

Hogan also announced $12 million in grants hospitals can use to expand community-based vaccination efforts.

To reach rural residents, the state’s mobile vaccination efforts begin Friday on the Eastern Shore.

“Each mobile vaccine bus has the versatility to be used as a walk-up clinic, or we can use it as a drive-through facility,” said Maryland National Guard Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead, who is leading the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force. “Individuals have the option of receiving the vaccines inside the bus or staying in the comfort of their cars and the vaccinator will come to them.”

The state is discussing adding more mass vaccination sites, as well. Hogan said to expect an announcement on those in the coming days.

The governor urged residents to get the vaccine as soon as they can, and he cautioned residents not to shop around for a vaccine produced by a specific drugmaker.

“There's such a short supply and such tremendous demand,” Hogan said. “Anybody that walked away and said, ‘I don't want that vaccine; I want to wait until there's another one,’ may be waiting a while.”

Getting as many people vaccinated as possible is the only way people may be able to eventually stop wearing masks and return to life as it was a year ago, the governor said.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.