Montgomery County, Maryland, is using up all the COVID-19 vaccine doses provided by the state each week, but has received significantly fewer doses in its most recent shipment than the amount requested, and that could complicate the county’s efforts to move toward more widespread vaccination, officials said.
“We can do more. We can ramp up and we can scale. But, unless we get more doses, it’s going to be very hard to move quickly through the remaining population,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during an online briefing with reporters Thursday.
Montgomery County has been among the most effective localities in Maryland in terms of distributing the vaccine doses it receives from the state, second only to Baltimore County.
Overall, the county has distributed north of 98% of the vaccine doses provided by the state, and is on track to deplete its supply by Friday.
But the more than 19,000 vaccine doses distributed so far is a drop in the bucket compared to the people who are eligible to receive the vaccine during these first phases, which Elrich estimated at 750,000 people.
(The number of vaccines distributed by the county, so far, doesn’t include health care workers, who are vaccinated with doses provided directly to their hospitals where they work, and residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, who are being vaccinated under pharmacy partnerships with CVS and Walgreens.)
The county puts in its requests for state-provided vaccine doses the week before shipments are due to arrive, according to Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer.
Montgomery County requested between 10,000 and 15,000 doses, but only received 6,700 in the shipment that arrived this week. The week before, the county requested between 5,000 and 10,000 doses, and received 8,600.
Elrich acknowledged that the state is ultimately dependent on the federal government for its vaccine supply, and he said he understands that state health officials have to take into consideration the needs of two dozen other counties. In other words, the state may not actually have the doses to distribute.
But, he said, “transparency would be helpful,” adding, “The frustration of myself and other county executives is we’re playing in the dark.”
Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials were “pretty astounded” the county received fewer doses this week than last.
“Our goal is to keep making progress and building and showing success every week, and showing that we can distribute what we’re provided,” Stoddard said. “And we never want to see less doses.”
For next week, the county has requested between 12,000 and 15,000 doses. Officials will know this weekend about how many they can expect.
Stoddard emphasized that the county wasn’t seeking a fight with state health officials and that actually they shared the same goal: getting more people vaccinated.
“The state has a vested interest in getting our residents vaccinated and should be providing more vaccine to the people who have demonstrated that they can actually get the vaccine out,” Stoddard said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is set to provide a vaccine update at a news conference at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Montgomery County is still working its way through the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which in addition to hospital staff and long-term care workers and residents, includes public safety employees, lab workers, school nurses and funeral home staff.
The goal is to move to Phase 1B — the first phase of more widespread vaccinations, which includes anyone age 75 and older and, in a second tier, teachers and child care workers — by the beginning of February.
Stoddard said county officials have “no idea” what the governor is going to say.
“But we’re prepared for a shift that could occur,” Stoddard said, such as a shift in vaccine prioritization perhaps to move more quickly to vaccinating older populations.
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