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Baltimore County Looking To Find Hard-To-Reach People, Including Republicans, For COVID Vaccine

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski speaks at a news conference about the county's new vaccination van.
John Lee
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski speaks at a news conference about the county's new vaccination van.

Baltimore County is shifting its focus from getting as many people vaccinated for COVID as possible, to targeting those who can’t or won’t get inoculated.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski, a Democrat, said that includes Republicans who say they will not get the vaccine.

A recent CBS news poll finds 30% of Republicans surveyed said they will not get vaccinated. They cite distrust in government and doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness as reasons why.

Baltimore County just got a van it can use to provide shots in communities with low vaccination rates. Olszewski said that could include outreach like parking it outside a Republican legislator’s church.

“I think that sort of sends a signal to people that they worship alongside, whom they may have similar opinions about vaccine doses, that this is safe, it is effective, and it is again the best way out of this,” Olszewski said.

Republican State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, who represents Dundalk and has been vaccinated, said he’s fine with having the van outside his church.

“I wouldn’t mind that one bit,” Salling said.

He said you get things done when Democrats and Republicans work together.

Salling said he got vaccinated because “it was the right thing to do” and that he would do it again.

Olszewski said Republican State Senator J.B. Jennings, who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford Counties, is about to participate in a public service announcement encouraging people to get the vaccine.

“We’re really trying to get out there and have those validators to say, ‘these vaccines are safe, they’re effective, and the best way to get back to normal is to get the vaccine,’” Olszewski said.

The vaccination van will reach beyond political affiliation to find those who have not yet been vaccinated. That effort will be driven by data, according to Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch.

“We will focus on communities where there are increased COVID cases and low vaccine interest,” Branch said. “When you look at neighborhoods of black and brown people, that’s where you’re going to find that.

“If you see this mobile unit, then therein lies a vaccine for you,” Branch said.

The vaccination van cost around $70,000 and was paid for with CARES money.

More than 54% of Baltimore County’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one dose. Olszewski said last weekend, for the first time, their mass vaccination clinics had unused appointments for the first dose of the vaccine.

“This is an important sign that after months of significant scarcity, we are finally beginning to see the impact of increasing supply and decreasing demand,” Olszewski said.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2