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Dzirasa Wants To Boost City Vaccine Rates

A resident receiving her first shot at the M&T Bank Stadium. The city is shifting away from mass vaccination sites to focus on mobile clinics. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Baltimore’s city and health officials aim to vaccinate 80% of residents by February. But daily vaccination rates have slowed since May, and city health commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said that vaccine hesitancy -- or deliberation -- will be one of their main hurdles in meeting that goal.

She discussed the health department’s ongoing vaccine rollout challenges at a city council hearing Wednesday morning.

“The vaccine is very widely available now. And still, there are many who are unvaccinated,” Dzirasa told council members.

As of Wednesday, more than 57% of residents 18 and over have received at least one dose. For residents of all ages, the rate is at more than 47%.

As part of its strategy to reduce hesitancy, the health department launched the VALUE Baltimore program to engage concerned residents. The program has ambassadors to build trust with communities they’re part of, such as Latinx ambassadors for Latinx residents.

Dzirasa noted that 47% of the Latinx population has been vaccinated. That’s a higher rate than for non Latinx residents, who are at nearly 44%.

“This highlights much of the important work that our VALUE ambassadors within the Latinx community are doing to really ensure that this group has access to the vaccine, and has the information they need,” she said.

As mass vaccinations are set to close across the state, Baltimore has also been shifting its focus to ramping up mobile clinics, which Dzirasa says will make vaccines more accessible.

As of today, nearly 35% of Black residents have received at least one dose, compared to 55% of white residents. Dzirasa said this marks progress for the city.

“Initially, it was an almost fourfold difference,” she said. “And we have seen this come down significantly over time.”

Dzirasa and Mayor Brandon Scott announced later Wednesday afternoon that the city’s mask mandate will be lifted on July 1, even though it has not yet reached the 65% adult vaccination threshold they were aiming for. Still, Dzirasa said that percentage will remain a “benchmark” for the city.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.