Montgomery Co. health care workers receiving first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Health care workers in Montgomery County, Maryland, will be receiving the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine starting Wednesday, according to the county’s health officer.

Dr. Travis Gayles said the vaccine is on its way to a number of health care facilities around the state. Gayles said the county plans to follow the guidance laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide who receives the vaccine first.

He said that while a limited supply is available at the moment, Montgomery County is working on plans for distributing the vaccine once more doses arrive.

“Rest assured, we have a plan in place to disseminate those vaccines as quickly as we can once we receive confirmation when we will receive the vaccine as well as what that supply will be,” Gayles said. “Everything we do — particularly in the early stages — will be consistent with the guidelines provided at the state level in an effort to create uniform, standardized approaches and guidelines for all of the jurisdictions across the state of Maryland.”

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The county has added information about its distribution plans for the vaccine to its website.

The plan mirrors that of the national plan for distribution, which divides people into three categories based on the urgency of getting them the vaccine.

  • Phase One: High-risk groups such as front-line health care workers and nursing home residents. Vaccines will be distributed to hospitals and nursing homes directly from the federal government.
  • Phase Two: Likely to include people in critical infrastructure roles, including essential non-health care and transportation workers, and people at moderately higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
  • Phase Three: Wide-scale distribution of the vaccine associated with broad availability to the general population.

Gayles also said that all hospitals in Montgomery County either received the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday, or will be receiving it Thursday, and will begin the process of getting it to their staff this week.

Another batch of Maryland’s vaccine allocation was given to pharmacies that work with long-term care facilities. Those pharmacies will work with facilities on distribution and administering the vaccine to their residents and staff, according to Gayles.

“We received word this morning that that process has already begun in terms of transferring the doses to the pharmacies, and they have already started scheduling appointments with different facilities across the county,” Gayles said. “The expectation is that that process will begin either late December or early January.”

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses in order to be fully effective, and ensuring that those who have received one dose return for their second present a logistical hurdle.

Gayles said the county will be using several digital platforms to keep track of who has received at least one dose and still needs to return for a second.

He told the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday that three out of six hospitals in the county no longer had ICU bed capacity.

Gayles said that hospital leaders had told him, as of Wednesday morning, that their surge capacity was in a better spot than they had been in the spring, but that vigilance was still needed as hospitalizations rates will likely rise in the near future.

“We know that hospital numbers typically lag behind the cases, and the models that we have received from our academic partners as well as national capital region surveillance does suggest that through the holidays that we could be potentially looking at elevated hospital rates as we continue to move through the end of December and into next year,” Gayles said.

County Executive Marc Elrich said he has been meeting regularly with the Maryland state legislature to ensure they are aware of the struggles Montgomery County is facing as pandemic-related closures continue to deal a hard blow to the bottom lines of local businesses.

“I know that the comptroller has called on the governor to dip deeper into their reserves in order to provide a greater level of relief to the business community, and I’m certainly supportive of his efforts to do that,” Elrich said.

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