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New mission for Maryland National Guard Commander: Making sure vaccine access is equitable

Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead will lead state efforts to ensure minority populations have access to COVID-19 vaccine

BOWIE, Md. — Minority populations in Maryland, especially African-Americans, are not getting COVID-19 vaccinations as quickly as white residents, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health. 

Whether access to the vaccine, reluctance to take it, or both, is the problem, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) has tasked the state's Army National Guard Commander to address the inequity.

Last week, Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead, the Maryland Deputy Adjutant General, began to take charge of coordinating the state's equity efforts.

Until January 5, General Birckhead was a part-time member of the National Guard. She was working her civilian job in the Department of Interior up until the day an unruly mob descended on the Capitol, storming the building and threatening lawmakers.  

General Birckhead was immediately called to active duty and was placed in charge of all the National Guard soldiers deployed to protect the Capitol. She served in that role until January 30, when her orders came to return home to Maryland and lead efforts to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine.

WUSA9 anchor Adam Longo spoke to General Birckhead Friday at Six Flags in Bowie. A portion of the amusement park is being used as one of six mass vaccination sites in the state. Friday was the "soft launch." 

"If you have a question, please ask. We can educate, we can get your questions answered," said General Birckhead.     

Governor Hogan acknowledges there is skepticism within minority communities about the safety of the vaccine. 

General Birckhead has a big task ahead in attempting to equalize the low rates of vaccine being given in minority communities.

According to Census data, Maryland’s population is 30% black – yet just under 15% of the shots have gone to black residents, according to data from the State Department of Health. 

Maryland is 50% white – yet 64% of the vaccine has gone to white residents, according to those same sources. 

Majority black Prince George's County currently has the lowest proportion of vaccinated residents in the state, at 4%. Adjoining Charles County is second lowest, at 5.6%. 

By comparison, Worcester County (Ocean City) has the highest proportion of vaccinated residents, at 14.5%. 

Data being referenced can be found here.

"So that’s why the governor realizes we need to have someone out looking at that. Looking at what we can do for distribution," said General Birckhead. 

Birckhead will coordinate with each of Maryland's 24 counties and Baltimore City to increase efforts for minority residents to get vaccinated. 

"We all know there are some trust issues, so how do we get over that?" she asks. 

Maryland leaders have rolled out a commercial campaign designed to allay fears about the Covid-19 vaccine.  

You can watch the state's Public Service Announcement HERE.

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