The Honorable Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland:
We are writing on behalf of Maryland Nonprofits that represents more than 1,000 nonprofit members from across the state of Maryland, and Maryland Latinos Unidos, a program of Maryland Nonprofits, representing Latino-led and Latino serving nonprofit organizations, and the signatories to this letter.
First, we thank you for your leadership and work with the General Assembly in quickly approving the Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families (RELIEF) Act, that will include funding for vaccine access, food banks, mental health and nonprofit organizations in this great time of need. But even with this assistance, the problem with of assuring equitable access and distribution with Covid-19 vaccines remains serious across the State.
Nonprofits are part of the essential workforce that delivers basic health and social services to communities across the state. Our members are increasingly concerned with the lack of equity in vaccine distribution to date, as well as the lack of clear plans on how we will expand vaccine access and adoption in Black, Latino and low-income communities. Nonprofits and faith-based organizations have the connections, trust and knowledge of their local communities and must be provided resources and a regular forum with Maryland Department of Health to participate fully in vaccine access work. This is a race against the clock to get to zero infections in Maryland.
We are particularly concerned that communities hardest hit with COVID-19 continue to remain those with disproportionately lower vaccination rates. As just one example, Prince George’s County, the state’s hardest-hit county from COVID and the county with high numbers of Latino and Black residents has a vaccination rate less than half the state average (3.7% in Prince Georges County vs. 7.8% statewide) according to the data provided to the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup on February 15, 2021. The data from Maryland Department of Health further outlines that only 15% of vaccines have been distributed to Black people who make up 31% of the state’s population and only 3.7% have been distributed to Hispanic people who make up 10% of the state’s population.
We must have a plan and greater community input to ensure equity and that we overcome the following barriers:
- Cost: Ensure vaccines are free and do not require copays.
- Internet Access: Expand opportunities for people without internet to obtain information and assistance in making appointments by phone.
- Transportation Access and Disability: Ensure people without transportation and people with disabilities are reached and can be vaccinated through a mobile site or have transportation provided.
- Outreach by Trusted Messengers: Ensure Black, Latino and other immigrant and low-income communities receive vaccine information in numerous ways from trusted messengers.
- Vaccine Site Placement and Mobile Vaccination Clinics: and that vaccination sites are located in walking distance to where people live in communities with high numbers of Black, immigrant and low-income communities.
- Language Access: Ensure vaccine information is available in multiple languages and that vaccine administration sites are equipped with interpreters and health practitioners who are from the community and speak different languages.
- Vaccine Hesitancy: Ensure funding is provided to support partnerships with trusted organizations that can help address vaccine hesitancy in Black and Latino communities and across all Marylanders. We cannot underestimate the concerns that our neighbors face – particularly regarding the historical treatment of Black communities in the area of medical experimentation and of Latino communities in terms of deportation and detention. The current implementation of plans for vaccine distribution are not putting us in a position to tackle these real problems.
Nonprofits are particularly well suited to serve communities that experience barriers to vaccination. We ask that the nonprofit community be provided with a direct channel of input into the issue of vaccine access over the coming 6-12 months. We believe the nonprofit community can significantly add value to expand vaccine access and adoption across the State. Please engage us in a robust way as part of the vaccine solution in Maryland so we can bring our infection rates down to zero and get Maryland moving again!
Thank you for all you are doing to keep Maryland safe and moving forward amidst the pandemic.
Heather Iliff, President & CEO, Maryland Nonprofits
Gabriela Lemus, Executive Director, Maryland Latinos Unidos