ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Hours after Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said states shouldn’t hold back coronavirus vaccines to secure supplies of second doses, Maryland’s acting health secretary confirmed hospitals state-wide are having major problems obtaining final booster shots.
Acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader also told members of the Maryland State Senate he advised hospitals not to release all of their vaccine doses, appearing to contradict Fauci’s guidance issued Monday morning.
“Today I’ve heard that multiple hospitals and health services are having difficulty getting second doses for their health care workers,” said Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) during Monday’s Maryland Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup.
“There are second doses that were supposed to be delivered last week that are still missing, and have not materialized… Can you confirm that this is a problem?”
“That is correct,” Schrader answered. “We think that in the transition between the two [U.S. presidential] administrations, Health and Human Services has been having a struggle reconciling the data. So, we’re working with them. We’ve been on the phone with them all weekend.”
The state’s acting health secretary said Maryland and federal health officials have not been able to put a finger on the source of the problem. Schrader said the goal is to figure out how to address the shortage “over the next few days.”
“Is there a plan currently to address this?” Lam asked, noting accruing anguish among frontline health care workers.
“It’s causing a lot of angst with us, but we’re partners with the federal government, and we’re putting a lot of pressure on them to figure this out,” Schrader said.
The confusion and lack of answers unfolded as Maryland remained anchored to the bottom of a national ranking, 41st out of 50, in terms of states ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered.
The acting secretary declined to say whether first vaccine doses from Maryland’s groups 1-B and 1-C should be used to fully vaccinate health care workers in group 1-A.
Yet Schrader did confirm he instructed hospitals to hold second doses in reserve, out of concern the federal government would not provide an adequate supply.
“That is true, absolutely,” Schrader said. “Because we don’t want to take any risk. We want to make absolutely sure that if somebody gets the first dose, that they’re going to get a second dose.”
In what often seemed to serve as a split-screen news conference, Fauci and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team expressed confidence in the current supply of vaccine, saying no second doses needed to be safeguarded.
“Rather than holding back on doses that would be designated for the second dose, we now have more and more confidence in the even flow of doses to go to locations,” Fauci said. “They’re going to get them, we don’t want to hold back things.”
After the Biden administration promised states an extra 16 percent supply in first vaccine doses, Maryland reported it expects a stable supply of 88,000 doses each week of February. The number is an increase from 71,975 doses delivered in the first week of January.
Schrader also announced February 5 will be when Six Flags America in Bowie becomes one of six mass vaccination sites across Maryland.
Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) noted local health departments administered 91 percent of their allotted first doses so far, a number that at first seems to, “knock it out of the park.”
Yet Ferguson added that the number of vaccines provided to local departments is often relatively low, with 15,000 serving as the minimum number of doses per week for each department.
The session ended with Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's) asking a seemingly simple question: how should Marylanders sign up for a vaccine.
”Should you be signing up every single place you can to try to get an appointment? Or is there some centralized way that signs you up everyplace,” he asked.
“Well, I’d have to think about that question, and discuss it with you after or maybe deal with it next week,” Schrader answered. “I gotta think about that one.”