Mayor Brandon Scott discusses how COVID-19 has impacted Baltimore

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott spoke to Lana Zak about the challenges Baltimore is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the racial inequity of vaccine distribution. Mayor Scott says he's looking to the Biden administration to help close the racial gap and invest in local governments to improve COVID responses. The mayor also says he's working on vaccine distribution for educators who are skeptical to return to work as the pandemic continues.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: Health officials are pleading with Congress to increase their COVID-19 vaccine supply in order to speed up the inoculation process. Scientists testified to the length of waiting lists across the country in a congressional hearing on Friday. Cities like Baltimore are opening mass vaccination centers to ensure as many people are receiving doses as possible. But this week's winter storms delayed shipments, slowing down an already burdened system. With me now is Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. Mayor Scott, good to have you with us. So what are you looking for from the Biden administration in order to help Baltimore get through this COVID crisis?

BRANDON SCOTT: Well, we're looking for what we think that we're going to get. First and foremost, we're looking to have a president and a vice president and the administration that believes that COVID is real and wants to work on behalf of the American people to get people vaccinated, to make them healthy and safe. But we know here-- 59,000 first doses and 29,000 second doses have been administered by a combination of our health department and our 11 hospital partners in the city. But due to prioritization [? dictated ?] by the state, extremely low numbers have been provided, only 5.2% to our Black residents.

We're looking for partnership in the federal government to have them directly work with cities to deal with that inequity. We need more supply. That clearly is the number one thing that we need. But we need equitable supply. We have an opportunity here to focus on Black and Brown communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus to help them be vaccinated. And we're hopeful that the president and his administration will be a big partner in doing that.

LANA ZAK: Well, Mayor Scott, you also wrote a letter to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, asking that Baltimore residents get priority at vaccination sites in your city. What challenges are Baltimore residents facing in terms of getting the vaccine? And why do you believe that they might be at a disadvantage?

BRANDON SCOTT: Well, listen, what you're talking about with COVID-19 is further exacerbating inequities that already exist. And we're talking about Baltimore City, the birthplace of redlining via legislation. A city that has a deep district divide. And when you look at the system that the state was using, you had to apply online. And we know that a lot of Black residents in Baltimore don't have access to the internet. And if we're going to have two mass vaccination sites here in our city, then yes, our residents should get priority there. And not just me, Lana, county executives around the state of Maryland and myself have been asking to have more input.

We were only getting one week's notice of what we were getting from our state. That's unacceptable. We're not going to get four. We don't have the ability to see what our other partners are doing for vaccination. And we are not seeing the equitable distribution that we need. We know that. That's why I actually wrote to Johnson & Johnson to see if my city could purchase some of their vaccine, if approved, directly from them since they're making it here, so that we can get it in the hands of people that we know will help get it out. We've done a partnership with our hospitals and have mobile vaccination clinics. We know we can get it to our people. We need to have that vaccine given to us. But we also need to have us prioritize at those mass vac sites.

LANA ZAK: That must be very frustrating, seeing those vaccinations. Obviously, Johnson & Johnson is still waiting for emergency use authorization. But seeing them being made right there across the street and wanting them for your residents. Did you get any response to that outreach?

BRANDON SCOTT: I did. I did get a response and we're going to be talking with them. And of course, we would have to talk to our partners, our wonderful fellow delegation, our new wonderful presidential administration, to talk about that directly. This is something-- I was on a call with the vice president and African-American mayors around the country, where we all talked about needing directly to be able to get vaccines to us, so that we can have the equitable distribution of vaccine that we need. We know we worked on the hesitancy here.

We have a program now with Morgan State, and Micah, and Johns Hopkins to work around how we can get people to understand how important this vaccine is. But it's extremely frustrating when we have people who want the vaccine, but we're not getting the supply and we're having these restrictions put on us that limit how we can make it more equitable.

LANA ZAK: Well, speaking of equity, Baltimore is obviously Maryland's largest majority Black jurisdiction. What is your administration doing to try and combat some of the problems that we've discussed on this show to make sure that Black and Brown residents of Baltimore actually trust that the vaccines that they're receiving are effective and that they're safe?

BRANDON SCOTT: Yeah, we were just saying, we announced a partnership with Morgan State. Maryland Institute College, and other partners to do a listening sessions and develop tailor, develop educational outputs for our Black and Brown communities to understand that this vaccine is safe. We have great opportunities here in using folks that we know our Black community believes in, like President Hrabrowski from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, UMBC. But we're also going to be going directly to the people, meeting them where they are, doing our social media campaigns, have incredible [? messages, ?] go into our communities, using our religious institutions.

Everybody that we can to help people understand that this is safe. We will never push aside people's hesitancy because, again, this is Baltimore, where we know testing on Black people and misuse of Black people when it comes to the health industry has happened. We're gonna understand that that is a real thing for us. But also use that as an opportunity to show how this is different and that we need to do this because our people are dying at a much higher rate from COVID-19.

LANA ZAK: I want to talk to you also about schools because of the vaccine shortages. Maryland teacher unions are concerned about the state's decision to move forward with reopening schools, particularly those schools right there in Baltimore. And what do you say to your teachers who are worried about contracting COVID in the classroom, who are worried that they haven't been able to get the vaccine?

BRANDON SCOTT: Yeah, listen, this is actually one of the things I prioritize, trying to get our teachers vaccinated, more than vaccinated. And we could have been much more along the way if we were getting more vaccine. Doing it with our partners at Hopkins, and University of Maryland, and our own testing site. I understand their concerns. And this is-- I'm actually having a meeting later today to try to further help and assist of how we can make sure that they are safe. I've put in restrictions when I first came into office that now have us at a 2% positivity rate here in the city of Baltimore, the lowest in the state of Maryland.

But we also know that we have to make sure that they are safe and keeping them healthy. But we also have to acknowledge there's so many of our young people are also falling behind. I'm hearing from young people directly, saying that they need to get back in the classroom. We just have to make sure from my role that I'm doing everything in my power, not having direct power over the school system here, to make sure that that is happening in the safest way possible, and understanding that this is still a live pandemic.

LANA ZAK: The desire to have the vaccine combined with the shortage has led to some situations across the country. And there in Baltimore, three men were arrested for selling COVID-19 vaccines. Are you worried about desperate measures being taken to inoculate? And do you see this as a potential trend? And are you worried then about counterfeit vaccine as well?

BRANDON SCOTT: Well, I think we always have to be prepared. We know, unfortunately, we had that incident in Baltimore County, not here in Baltimore City. But we know that some people are going to try to take advantage of things that are happening and take advantage of people in their most desperate time. We have to be prepared for that. I know that overwhelmingly, folks in Baltimore are going to follow the rules. They're going to make sure that they're getting vaccinated. We have to make sure that we are prepared for anything. But the most important thing, Lana, is that we continue to fight to have the process be more equitable, to have more vaccine so that there's less opportunity for folks to capitalize on the inaction that has been happening because of the previous administration.

LANA ZAK: Mayor Brandon Scott, thank you for joining us.

Thank you.

BRANDON SCOTT: Thank you for having me.

LANA ZAK: And join us as CBSN streams a coronaviruses special-- "A Shot of Hope-- Vaccine Questions Answered." My colleague, Tanya Rivero, will speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci along with other doctors and scientists. Its streams this coming Thursday, February 25, , at 8:00 PM Eastern 5:00 Pacific, right here on CBSN.