U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) Friday criticized Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines, saying the state needs to do more to make vaccines more accessible in underserved communities.
Below is an excerpt of an edited interview the senator did with MarylandReporter.com that also focuses on how the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that President Joe Biden recently signed into law might help Marylanders.
MarylandReporter.com: Under the American Rescue Plan individuals who make up to $75,000 per year and married couples who make up to $150,000 per year who file a joint tax return are eligible to receive a one-time payment of $1,400. Is that enough money and how will it help Marylanders in particular?
Van Hollen: These are direct payments to individuals. It will go to 2.5 million Maryland households. And it’s $1,400 per person. This will help people meet their emergency costs. It will help them pay their bills. And it will provide a cushion for many families that are being stretched financially. I think this is a really important piece of help. It of course is combined with with the $600 from December. So thats $2,000 in payments for all of these eligible individuals.
MarylandReporter.com: What do you make of the fact that the legislation failed to attract any support from Republican members of Congress?
Van Hollen: It was very disappointing. Especially given the emergency the country is facing. The urgent economic situation. And the fact that that this legislation has overwhelming public support throughout the country. All of the surveys indicate that majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents support this bill. It was disappointing that not a single Republican voted for it.
MarylandReporter.com: President Joe Biden said in his primetime address on Thursday evening that he is directing states to make all American adults eligible for vaccination by May 1. Do you think that is a realistic goal?
Van Hollen: I do because we have been able to step up the production of vaccines-both the original two-the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. And then the President made sure we purchased another 100,000,000 doses of each. And he has also worked to increase the production of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He has made use of the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to direct the private sector to join in the national effort. And he is working on better distribution because a lot of the state distribution systems have been inadequate. So yes. That is the goal and it is certainly achievable.
MarylandReporter.com: How would you rate Gov. Larry Hogan’s response to the pandemic, namely with regard to vaccine distribution?
Van Hollen: I don’t have to be the one to grade the governor and the state because we can rely on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to do that. And for a very unacceptably long time Maryland was near the back of the pack in distributing the vaccines it had. We are still in the second half of states. But we were in the very back of the pack for a very long time. And we are still at the back of the pack when it comes to the equitable distribution of the vaccine-in terms of making sure that the communities that were hardest hit-communities of color-receive the vaccine.
MarylandReporter.com: Do you expect enhanced federal intervention to improve access to vaccines in underserved communities?
Van Hollen: I do. It’s unfortunate that the state had such a bad rollout distribution system. But the new federal effort will get more vaccines to areas where it is most needed. And it is also important now for the state to increase the scope of eligibility for the vaccines. I have spoken to a number of community health centers who say if they were given the authority from the state they could make this vaccine more available to underserved communities. They could do it today. But the state rules have tied their hands.
(Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, declined to comment on Van Hollen’s remarks except to say that he presumes MarylandReporter.com informed the senator that the state “allocates vaccines to all of its community health centers.” MarylandReporter.com pressed Ricci for further comment but he declined.)
Over the last month-and-a-half, the state has set up four mass vaccination sites in majority-minority jurisdictions. Two are located in Baltimore City and the others are located in Prince George’s and Charles counties.
Maryland’s health care providers have administered 1,736,455 doses of the coronavirus vaccine as of Friday morning, according to the Department of Health. That includes 1,096,241 (18.133%) first doses and 598,647 (9.902%) second doses.