‘Frustrated, angry, scared’: Montgomery Co. residents press council on vaccines

Montgomery County Council members were pleased that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and County Executive Marc Elrich had a “productive” discussion about the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

But they’re still getting questions from residents desperate to get themselves and loved ones vaccinated.

Council member Gabe Albornoz said Tuesday that he and fellow council members have been bombarded with “emails, questions, phone calls from people who are frustrated, angry, scared.”

When the state announced that Maryland residents in Phase 1c could receive vaccinations, it created confusion — and frustration — among residents who found that the county didn’t follow suit and was still restricting vaccinations to those in Phase 1b.

Worsening the situation: reports of vaccine shortages nationwide.

As of Tuesday morning, Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the health department had administered 43,790 vaccinations for people getting their first dose. Just 4,899 people had received their second dose.

The county’s ability to set up vaccination clinics and appointments in advance, Gayles said, remains “tricky” because the county isn’t notified about how many vaccine doses will be delivered in advance.

“Nothing has changed from how we are being notified,” Gayles said. “We are at a week-to-week notification system.”

Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, said that the county is making progress on providing some clarity on its website.

The county is expanding the preregistration process to include those age 65 and older, but Crowel cautioned that “preregistration does not mean that you have an appointment for a vaccination.”

Rather, preregistration gives the county a list of people it can draw from for future appointments as the county gets through Phase 1b, he said.

Though council members were happy to see any progress in getting COVID-19 vaccines distributed, they raised questions about how difficult it can be to navigate the process of signing up.

Council member Craig Rice explained that he spent four hours online to get his mother an appointment at a Giant Pharmacy, to no avail. Still, he suggested he is among those fortunate enough to have the time and wherewithal to figure out what it takes to get an appointment.

“How many people have that opportunity? How many shift workers? How many folks who have non-high-quality broadband access?” Rice said.

“Nobody’s accepting phone calls. So, God forbid if you don’t have a computer or are very adept at using your smartphone — you’re not getting an appointment,” he added.

Several council members suggested ways to improve the system and level the playing field. Council member Nancy Navarro talked about “navigators” who could walk people through the process, much as the county did when Maryland’s Health Exchange was first launched.

Council member Andrew Friedson suggested including more specifics on the vaccination process. Noting that the county doesn’t control how many vaccine doses it receives, Friedson said providing more clarity on where and how to get a vaccine is critical.

“We need to over-communicate what we can’t control,” Friedson said.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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