By Courtland Milloy

Just stay calm, I tell myself. The coronavirus vaccine is coming.

After signing up for a shot in Prince George’s County two weeks ago, I received a text that made me anxious: “Due to limited vaccine supply, it may take several weeks or more.”

I’ve never had to wait for a lifesaving vaccine that seemed so close, yet just out of arm’s reach.

Vaccines that can stop the deadly coronavirus are here — produced in record time. One was developed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, not even 10 miles from Prince George’s, and in partnership with Moderna researchers in Boston, only a six-hour drive away. You could almost reach out and grab a vial. Except that the vaccine rollout went off the rails.

Just stay calm, I tell myself. The self-soothing helps with patience, and it keeps me from making a foray into neighboring Montgomery County, cutting in line and getting the doses designated for their residents.

It’s tempting because Prince George’s is No. 1 in Maryland for coronavirus infections, No. 2 for covid-19 deaths and last for the percentage of the population receiving shots. Only 47,071 had received first doses and 14,789 second doses as of Friday, in the D.C. suburb of more than 900,000, often billed as the wealthiest, best-educated majority-Black county in the country.

Montgomery County, with a population of just over 1 million, had administered 106,525 first doses and 32,818 second doses.

At a virtual town hall on Saturday, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said that wait times for shots would improve now that the state had agreed to temporarily increase the weekly allotment of doses. For the next four weeks, she said, the county would get 4,200 doses instead of the usual 975 doses. Montgomery County has received nearly twice as much as Prince George’s County.

Just stay calm, I tell myself. Surely, Prince George’s will get more.

Alsobrooks is not the only elected official with an aggravated constituency.

“I know you’re frustrated and out of patience, and I understand it,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recently told his disgruntled electorate.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has asked his state’s residents to be patient several times during the rollout. At a recent news conference, he sounded pretty fed up, too. “The basic problem is pretty simple,” he said. “We need more damn vaccines.”

When the rollout began in December, there were fewer doses than expected and not enough know-how to handle what little there was. Then January came and the infection and death rates hit all-time highs.

Now epidemiologists are warning that another surge could occur in six to 12 weeks. A variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom made its way into the District a week or so ago, and another, which first emerged in South Africa, was found in Anne Arundel County, which borders Prince George’s to the east.

President Biden recently said there will be enough vaccine to cover 300 million people by the end of July.

Just stay calm, I tell myself. The vaccine could still get here before the mutant virus surge.

Maryland has created an “equity task force,” headed by a brigadier general in the National Guard, to help bring the vaccine to more people. The more shots the county administers, the better our chances of getting more vaccine the next time. It would also help if more “vaccine-hesitant” residents could be persuaded to get the shots.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s chief epidemiologist, said during a recent webinar hosted by Prince George’s County that getting vaccinated was not just for personal safety, but for the safety of the Black community. He made similar points in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month.

“If you want to prevent the evolution of mutations, you’ve got to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Fauci told The Post. “If you have vaccine hesitancy or reluctance to get vaccinated, you’re never going to get … that blanket or umbrella of what we refer to as ‘herd immunity.’ ”

Others are also working to spread that message. Clinical psychologist Linda McGhee hosts a radio show out of Baltimore called “Good Mental Health.” She recently took calls from some vaccine-hesitant listeners. Their questions were not unreasonable, and many referenced the poor and unequal treatment Black people have had — and continue to have — at the hands of the medical establishment.

But as proof of how dire the virus remains for Black people, one of McGhee’s guests cut to the chase.

“I want to say, I hear you, I feel you and acknowledge that because of our historical experiences we are fully justified in being skeptical,” said Monica Webb Hooper, who is Black and a psychologist with the National Institutes of Health. “But having these two vaccines is a blessing, and I encourage you to get the facts and give serious consideration to getting the vaccine. We cannot afford to be left behind, and widespread acceptance is critical.”

But left behind is how I feel.

Maryland gets about 10,000 doses each week from the federal government, and there are at least 2 million residents eligible for vaccination. In Prince George’s, Alsobrooks told those listening in to the town hall that there was a log jam of 125,000 people from Phase 1B and 1C — which includes those over 75 and teachers, and those ages 65 to 74 and those considered essential workers, respectively — waiting for vaccines. And that is the vaccine limbo where I have been stuck for the past two weeks.

“I have received your calls. I have received your emails. I have heard your frustration,” Alsobrooks said. “I do want to apologize to you.”

A friend my age in Miami, who has received both shots, talks about “feeling less worried about dying” when he leaves the house.

That’s what I want. It’s what a lot of us want.

Stay calm, I tell myself. The vaccine is coming.

Source: The Washington Post