The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that reporters be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1C of distribution but Maryland has not yet begun to prioritize members of that profession for vaccination.
“While our highest priority right now is vaccinating seniors and the severely immunocompromised, we have heard from a number of the members of the media interested in getting vaccinated. Federal guidelines make members of the media eligible under Phase 1C, and as more supply becomes available, we will expand our focus on occupation-based vaccinations,” Gov. Larry Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, emailed MarylandReporter.com on Monday.
Ricci’s statement comes after an admission by a representative of the state’s Department of Health that only those groups designated as eligible by the governor may be vaccinated. There is no mention of reporters in the state’s Phase 1C eligibility criteria, which prioritizes Marylanders ages 65-74, some essential workers, and those with certain immunocompromised conditions such as cancer and diabetes.
Last week the CDC ranked Maryland 41 out of 50 among states with regard to the worst distribution of the vaccine. Maryland’s metrics have since been gradually improving and the state is positioned to open up new mass vaccination sites within the next few weeks at M&T Stadium in Baltimore and at locations in southern and western Maryland.
Maryland’s executive and legislative leaders were vaccinated in Phase 1B of distribution per “continuity of government” plans. But with a limited supply of vaccines available, the media that interacts with the community and state politicians and leaders on a regular basis has not been prioritized for vaccination and has left some reporters concerned about the risks they are undertaking.
Charles Robinson, a political reporter with Maryland Public Television (MPT), who is on the cusp of age 65, said he would get the vaccine today if he were eligible. Robinson said it makes him “nervous” when he goes to Annapolis to cover the legislative session due to concerns about contracting COVID-19. Robinson said when he is in Annapolis he “tries to avoid contact with both his colleagues and legislators” in order to remain safe from the virus.
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) national president Matthew Hall said that while reporters should not be first in line for vaccination they should nevertheless be prioritized.
“We recognize that there are at-risk and vulnerable populations, including senior citizens, communities of color, frontline workers and others in other critical fields, who should be given greater priority. But journalists who leave the safety of their homes to report stories and inform the public put themselves in danger, too, and are essential to a functioning society. We encourage SPJ chapter leaders and journalists in every state to work together to both get a clear understanding of when and how journalists will be vaccinated, and to lobby their state health and government officials to ensure journalists are treated appropriately, according to CDC guidance.”
Rep. Anthony Brown (D) echoed similar sentiments in a statement to MarylandReporter.com.
“Members of the media go out into our communities each day to bring us the news, risking infection. They are essential workers and per CDC guidance should be eligible for vaccination once other individuals at high risk are taken care of.”
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) said members of the media should be prioritized for vaccination.
“Members of the media are essential to disseminate information to the public that is critical, not only for their information and knowledge but for their very survival. And to the extent that members of the media must interact with elected officials and government officials and other people in society and many of us are being vaccinated it is critically important that the media is vaccinated as well because to some extent they are essential employees.”