With Worcester’s Waiting List Over 6,400, Commissioners To Write Governor Again With Vaccine Equity Concerns

With Worcester’s Waiting List Over 6,400, Commissioners To Write Governor Again With Vaccine Equity Concerns
A vaccine is administered at a Worcester County clinic in February. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – Local officials are entreating the state to increase Worcester County’s COVID-19 vaccine allotment.

Billy Birch, the county’s director of emergency services, asked the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday to again write to Gov. Larry Hogan and state officials regarding the need for more vaccine doses. There are now more than 6,400 people on the Worcester County Health Department’s vaccine waiting list.

“I don’t think the Hogan administration is listening that we need more doses in Worcester County,” Birch said.

Worcester County ranks second in the state in administration of the first dose of the vaccine, as 21% of the population has now received the first dose. As for the second dose, 13% of the population has received it. Those figures would be even higher if the county had more vaccine to offer, as there were 6,472 people on the health department’s waiting list as of Monday.

“With our limited vaccine I think we’re doing tremendous…,” said Worcester County Health Officer Becky Jones. “We don’t sit on vaccine. We get it and it’s gone. I’m proud to say the health department has had zero wasted.”

She said the health department worked closely with partners throughout the county to offer vaccine clinics in North Ocean City, Snow Hill and Pocomoke. While the clinics have been praised for their efficiency, they’re serving very limited numbers of citizens. The county continues to get just 300 doses a week when it has the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people a week.

“We’re kind of cooling our heels waiting for more vaccine,” she said. “We’re ready to go.”

Jones said her department had repeatedly asked the state for more vaccine, citing the array of second homes in Ocean City and the fact that about 28% of the population was over 65 years old, but that the weekly allocation didn’t appear to be increasing. She added that the county even had a mobile unit it could use if it had more vaccines to distribute.

“Again, limiting us is our vaccine allocation,” she said.

Birch echoed her concerns. He said a meeting with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) this week showcased plans for statewide mobile vaccine clinics when already established vaccine clinics like the ones in Worcester weren’t even able to operate at capacity because of a lack of vaccine. He said the allocation of doses to Worcester County had been and continued to be a major concern.

“The way I can equate it to you, is we have fire trucks but they’re holding back the water,” Birch said. “They’re not giving us what resource we’re asking for.”

He said that for years MEMA had advised jurisdictions that emergencies start local and end local.

“They’re not listening to the locals,” he said. “There’s jurisdictions that are equal to our size or smaller that are getting more allocations of doses than we’re getting.”

The commissioners agreed Tuesday to again reach out to Hogan and state officials seeking more vaccine doses. Maryland currently receives about 14,000 doses a day. There are now plans underway for a mass vaccination site in Wicomico County and Hogan indicated in a press conference Tuesday there could be changes in vaccine allocations if there were situations where they were underutilized.

“The goal here is to get the vaccinations from the federal government, deploy them out immediately and into the arm of a person who needs it,” Hogan said. “Doses cannot be allowed to sit on shelves or in freezers whiles hundreds of thousands of people are desperately trying to schedule an appointment for a vaccine.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.