Q&A: MDH’s Mark Martin on initiatives to improve vaccination equity

Mark Martin, PhD, currently serves as the deputy director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities for the Maryland Department of Health. He has a passion for improving patient-centered care, health equity and for strengthening the continuum of care in communities through public and private partnerships. He also provides leadership for the Health Education and Outreach arm of the Maryland Prevention and Health Promotion Administration Contact Tracing Unit and serves with the Maryland Mass Vaccination Planning Team. 

In this Q&A, Martin discusses the challenges of addressing vaccine hesitancy and initiatives to address the problem.


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Shawna De La Rosa: How is the COVID-19 vaccine rollout going in terms of racially equitable distribution?

Mark Martin: “We are doing the best we can to make sure the there is equitable access to vaccines for all Marylanders. We’ve seen some data that indicates disparities. We are preparing some interventions that we think will help with those disparities.”

SD: What are some of those interventions?

MM: “There are a number of factors contributing to the racial inequity and hesitancy is one of them. So we’ve launched the “GoVAX” campaign and we’ve been very intentional about including trusted people from a wide range of backgrounds in the community to promote the efficacies of the vaccine. That includes pastors and political leaders.”

SD: What was the community’s reaction to the most recent GoVAX sound truck campaign?

MM: “The truck is so effective. You need to have mass campaigns, but you also need micro-targeted campaigns and that is what this is. The sound truck is a flatbed truck that has the ability to broadcast audio messages in multiple languages. We also partnered with a number of community-based organizations.”

SD: How did the public react?

MM: “It was very well received based on anecdotal evidence. The truck is branded out with “GoVAX” banners and people see that. We worked with some folks in Prince George’s County and mapped out the route. It has to stop at points to make the announcements and hand out the masks. Volunteers following along in their own vehicles. We give out free masks and people are very grateful. Everyone is hearing the messages.”

SD: What are the challenges of reaching minority communities? Is it just hesitancy? Or are their other factors such as transportation to the vaccination sites?

MM: “We are looking to expand access. So we have mass vaccination sites at Six Flags, M&T Bank Stadium, mobile clinics, pop-up clinics, church-based site pilots. We are talking to faith-based organizations about using their facilities as vaccination sites. We have kicked off a pilot. The goal is scale to other churches when we have more supply, but right now we need to make sure we have the process smoothed out. The caveat here is that we’ve always been restricted by the availability of doses. While we anticipate that to increase, it’s still not at the stage where we can go full bore.”

The interview was edited for length and clarity.