ANNAPOLIS — Maryland will start setting up mass vaccination centers as it begins offering COVID-19 vaccines to seniors, K-12 teachers and other government-designated priority groups.
The move aims to quicken the pace and volume of coronavirus vaccinations though the effort does face some public hesitancy and opposition.
In a press conference Thursday evening, Gov. Larry Hogan said the state would start offering coronavirus vaccines to Marylanders in group 1B starting Jan. 18.
That group includes seniors age 75 and older, designated government officials and K-12 teachers and other education staff. Some “high-risk” prison inmates as well as patients in group homes are also part of the 1B group.
Hogan said on Jan. 25 vaccinations will be offered to more seniors — those aged 65 to 74 — along with grocery store, farm production, U.S. Postal Service, manufacturing and other “essential” workers.
State officials are allowing counties the flexibility to move through the phases of vaccination protocols faster, as seen in Caroline County, so long as they prioritize the elderly and the most vulnerable populations in their jurisdictions.
As part of the wider rollout, the Maryland National Guard and Maryland Department of Health will be opening “mass vaccination sites” statewide, he said.
Through the Maryland Responds Medical Reserves Corps, state health officials have recruited and allocated 771 volunteers for county vaccination clinics, including Queen Anne’s, Somerset and Wicomico counties on the Eastern Shore.
In discussing the broader rollouts, Hogan said there is still some hesitancy and resistance toward COVID vaccinations even among the first group to be offered vaccines. That group, dubbed 1A, includes health care workers, first responders, nursing home staff and residents.
“Some of it was people said I don’t want it. We are going to have to go back and convince those people they need to get it,” Hogan said on Thursday.
The state is also launching a pilot project on Jan. 25 which involves opening vaccination clinics at 22 Giant locations throughout the state and 10 Walmart stores on the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland. The state health department is also launching an online locator, covidvax.maryland.gov, for residents to find the nearest vaccination centers.
Hogan and state health officials continued to promote the COVID vaccine and encourage Marylanders to get vaccinated.
Some of the slower rollouts of the vaccines stem from public hesitancy toward vaccinations in general and the fast development of the COVID vaccines, officials said.
“The process was rigorous and transparent throughout with continual FDA oversight and expert approval,” Hogan said. “Getting vaccinated is critical to preventing more illnesses and more deaths, and it will keep you, your family, your friends, and your community healthy and safe.”
Hogan said side effects from the coronavirus vaccines are rare.
“When they do occur that they are usually very minor and go away in a couple of days,” he added.
The governor said vaccines are the path to return the economy and everyday life back to normalcy as well as reducing the number of COVID deaths.