Baltimore got most COVID-19 vaccines in state through February with 75% sent to city hospitals

Alex Mann, The Baltimore Sun
·4 min read

Maryland sent more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Baltimore than any other jurisdiction in the state over the first 11 weeks of immunizations, but about three of four of those doses were sent to the city’s many hospitals.

Vaccinators in Baltimore received 125,110 vaccines from mid-December through the end of February, according to data released by the state Thursday. That’s about 14,000 doses more than the county with the next highest allocation, Montgomery, which is Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction with more than 1 million people, compared to the city’s 593,000 residents — the fourth largest population.

But 93,277 doses sent to Baltimore — or nearly 75% of the city’s allocation — went to the city’s 11 major hospitals, whose employees, many of whom live outside of Baltimore, were prioritized first in the state’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.

Fewer than 40% of the vaccines allocated to Baltimore went into the arms of city residents.

The new data offers some context for comments made by Gov. Larry Hogan last week. Standing outside of the recently operational mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, the Republican said Baltimore had received “far more” doses than it was “entitled to,” remarks that infuriated many city leaders who’ve decried the state’s vaccination campaign as inaccessible to many of their constituents.

The new data may do little to allay their concerns, as they said doses sent to Baltimore’s hospitals shouldn’t count against the city’s allocation. Politicians and health experts contend the city’s hospitals serve the entire region. Some leaders called for Baltimore’s health department to play a bigger role in the vaccination campaign, saying they may be better at reaching vulnerable populations.

Statewide, local health departments have been tasked with administering about a third of the state’s total vaccine supply.

The Baltimore City Health Department got 19,900 doses, about 16% of those sent by the state to the city, according to the state data released Thursday.

That does not include 16,100 doses the health department asked the state to divert to city hospitals, his spokesman, Mike Ricci, said in a Tweet Thursday. Those are included in the hospitals’ 125,110 doses, he said.

Hogan last week questioned the city health department’s role in the immunization effort. Ricci added in an email Monday that the health department declined additional doses in January, and that the state has collaborated with the health department to send more doses to city hospitals to vaccinate vulnerable residents.

But health departments, Baltimore’s included, tend to be small and historically underfunded, making complex vaccine distribution difficult. Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner, described the problem briefly at a City Council meeting last month, saying the hospitals and partner organizations are better staffed and have more capacity.

Baltimore and the counties of Charles and Prince George’s have administered the smallest proportions of preliminary vaccines to their residents. Those three jurisdictions are majority Black.

Maryland leaders say they’ve been dividing the vaccine among the state’s 24 jurisdictions based on their populations, and measuring how fairly it has distributed them by the number of doses received by each county per 1,000 residents.

After Baltimore and Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, the second most populous in the state, got the most vaccines through the end of February: 85,815. Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, the third and fifth most populated counties in Maryland, had the next most doses allocated, with 78,846 and 50,850.

An analysis of the data shows that, with some exceptions, counties with large populations had lower rates of first doses per 1,000 residents. The statewide average rate of first doses per 1,000 residents was 152.

Kent County, which has about 19,000 people, making it Maryland’s smallest, recorded a rate of 283 first doses per 1,000 residents. Dorchester County, with 32,000 people, had the next highest rate, with 216.

Baltimore City was an outlier, with about 211 vaccines per 1,000 residents. Its neighbor Anne Arundel, had the state’s lowest rate, with 88 first doses per 1,000 people.

This story will be updated.