Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen’s vaccine equity roundtable discusses the state’s barriers

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s recent announcement of the state’s official mass vaccination sites has once again brought up conversations about vaccine equity.

“[There is] this very troubling development of the vaccine not getting to communities of color where we know COVID-19 has hit the hardest,” said Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen.

Leaders in communities of color across the state gathered to speak on the hurdles that underserved, lower-income communities are facing which lead to them not being able to even sign up for a vaccine. These can range from lack of internet access to a lack of transportation.

“Living in abject poverty makes health equity an almost impossibility when people who are unemployed and underemployed are now being told to come downtown to the convention center for a vaccination,” said Bishop Donte Hickman, a pastor for the Southern Baptist Church.

The leaders also spoke on the double-edged problem of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — a one-dose shot that can be good for folks lacking transportation but is statistically less effective at preventing catching the virus.

“We are looking at it as a nice option for those that do have barriers on coming back for that second dose; but we are not presenting it as equal,” said Dr. Sonya Bruton, CEO and president of CCI Health & Wellness Services.

Though the members of the panel said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s ability to completely present hospitalization and death also needs to be considered and seen as an overall benefit, even if the vaccine isn’t ideal.

“[We need] clear education on it mitigating against severe illness and hospitalization is an important factor for our communities,” said Hickman.

These conclusions are based on the current efficacy statistics for the vaccines, so the narrative could possibly change as new variants are discovered and further testing is done.

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