The Maryland Equity Task Force came to Dundalk this week for three days, setting up at different McDonalds locations around town.

Brig. Gen. Janeen Birkhead, commanding general of the Maryland National Guard and head of the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force joined the Maryland National Guard soldiers administering vaccines to employees and members of the community. The initiative was a collaboration between the task force and Dundalk McDonalds owners Chris and Jennifer Mann. The Manns came up with the idea as a way to give even more access to the vaccine to their employees, and opened it up to the community.

“The effort today is to help with those barriers that people in Maryland are experiencing with getting the vaccine,” Brig. Gen. Birkhead said. “We know there are still barriers that exist and there are still people out there not vaccinated.

“We have to do everything we can to close that gap and make it more accessible. That’s what we’re doing here in locations where we know citizens need the vaccine and employees can get the vaccine, as well.”

One of those employees was Joshua Lucas. He was the first employee to walk over to the Mobile Vaccine Unit staged in the McDonalds parking lot, parallel to Dundalk Avenue. Lucas told the Eagle that getting the vaccine before was a challenge. He couldn’t find an open appointment that complied with his work schedule. Working out the time needed to travel on public transportation was also a barrier, he said.

“I feel like this will protect me, so why not get it done,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he would encourage more employees to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated.

The collaboration happened at a time when the rate of vaccines given has experienced a significant slowdown. Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan said he is ending the state of emergency he declared more than 15 months ago, with the rollback of regulations still in place to begin July 1. The mask mandate has been lifted at the state level, with local jurisdictions aligning with Hogan’s announcement. More than 70 percent of Marylanders are vaccinated, he also proclaimed earlier this month. It is a goal he said he wanted the state to reach before Independence Day.

But that still leaves less than 30 percent of residents unvaccinated. Both Maryland and Baltimore County have taken steps to maximize access to the vaccine for everyone, with Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) being the priority. The Baltimore County Health Department sets up a vaccine clinic at the Sollers Point Multipurpose Center in Turner Station every Friday, and will continue to do so until its services are no longer needed. Baltimore County created partnerships with ride-sharing companies, and the state created partnerships with several private entities to increase access.

And then there is the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force. The organization was created in 2020 by Hogan to focus COVID-19 vaccination efforts on underserved, vulnerable, and hard-to-reach populations to ensure the equitable delivery of vaccines, according to the governor’s website. The Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force has completed more than 700 missions, distributing more than 135,000 vaccine doses.

More of those doses were administered this week. Versions of the COVID-19 vaccine made by both Moderna and Pfizer were on hand. Brig. Gen. Birkhead said the clinics will set up at the same locations again in a month, so people who received their first dose can also receive their second. The two doses are required to be administered a month apart.

“We can also ensure that if someone is not here, and they want to go to another location, we will provide that information for an opportunity to go somewhere else,” Brig. Gen. Birkhead said. “They don’t have to come back to the same location, but we will make sure that we come back and follow up.”

Master Sgt. Alphonso Jones, a West Baltimore City resident who has nearly 40 years of service with the Maryland National Guard, said it takes around a half-day to get a Mobile Vaccine Unit vehicle ready to deploy. Hours of preparation, including vehicle maintenance, restocking supplies and preparing vaccines for transport, go into each vehicle’s preparation.

“Depending on how far we go, after a couple of missions we’ll go back and restock it again,” Master Sgt. Jones said. “We just keep it fully stocked.”

Master Sgt. Jones said vehicles have gone to several parts of the state, even as far as Hagerstown in Western Maryland, near both the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders. Master Sgt. Jones said the team who took a vehicle to Hagerstown said it was difficult to ascend the winding, mountainous roads in the region. The Mobile Vaccine Unit can now add three Dundalk McDonalds locations to its resume.

The Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force was at the Dundalk Avenue location on June 21. On June 22, the same clinic was set up at the location on Wise Avenue. On June 23, another clinic went up at 3954 North Point Blvd. Today, one more clinic will take place in Essex at 205 Back River Neck Rd.

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