A Montgomery County, Maryland, lawmaker is pushing the county to begin vaccinating older adults, who are newly eligible for COVID-19 vaccines under sped-up state guidelines, as early as this week.
But county health officials say they are still working through the vaccinations of thousands of health care workers, and the state isn’t providing enough doses of the vaccines to begin putting shots in the arms of people age 75 and older in large numbers any time soon.
Under Phase 1b of Maryland’s coronavirus vaccination plan, those older adults were eligible to receive the shots starting Monday. Other jurisdictions, including neighboring Prince George’s County, are moving ahead with vaccines for people age 75 and older.
Speaking during a Montgomery County Council hearing Tuesday, At-Large Council member Hans Riemer pushed for expanding vaccinations under the state guidelines, and said seniors in Montgomery County “need to feel like they’re a priority.”
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Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the county still has between 15,000 and 20,000 health care workers, such as dentists and pharmacists, to be vaccinated.
Moving seniors to the front of the line would also put the county in a dilemma.
“If we’re going to vaccinate 75-year-olds this week, it will be basically … taking doses away from the health care workers and giving them to the 75-and-older population,” Stoddard told council members during Tuesday’s hearing. “Those are the kinds of choices we will have to make.”
The county’s vaccination efforts will also be the subject of a virtual town hall discussion Tuesday at 7 p.m., hosted by the Montgomery County Council.
Supply low, demand sky-high
Overall, the supply of COVID-19 vaccines provided by Maryland is extremely limited. The county’s allotment for this week totaled just 7,300 first doses of the vaccine, officials told council members.
Demand, on the other hand, is sky-high.
As a first step in moving toward Phase 1b vaccinations, Montgomery County allowed residents to sign up to preregister for the next phase of vaccinations starting Friday.
As of Monday, some 53,000 people had signed up to preregister for Phase 1b vaccinations, said Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the Montgomery County Health and Human Services Department.
Still, Riemer pushed for seniors to begin to be able to make vaccine appointments, even if they’re weeks into the future.
“There’s so much anxiety out there because older people are hearing that they can get vaccinated in Virginia, they can get vaccinated in D.C., they can get vaccinated in Prince George’s County,” Riemer said. “But they can’t get vaccinated in Montgomery County, and that is untenable. We have to be able to offer that.”
No vaccines left on shelves
Health officials said they are exhausting their supply of vaccines provided by the state each week and there aren’t any leftover doses sitting on shelves. In fact, in terms of the sheer number of doses administered, the county is leading the state.
Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said Montgomery County is consistently distributing all of the vaccine doses it receives from the state each week. “We’ve pushed out all of the vaccine distributed … We don’t have any left,” he added.
Officials said the governor’s announcement last week to move into Phase 1b this week and 1c next week “created a massive expectation that there’s something available to people that there is not,” Stoddard said, pointing to the limited state-provided supplies.
Some council members said they have even heard of Montgomery County residents age 75 and older who have made appointments in neighboring Prince George’s County, using the county’s digital sign-up sheet.
Prince George’s County announced Monday that, starting Feb. 9, it would limit Phase 1b vaccine appointments to people who live and work in its county only.
Montgomery County officials said they are working on ways to expand supply, including by leveraging doses from hospitals for public use, or to vaccinate other types of health care workers who are still waiting on shots.
During the hearing Tuesday, council members questioned how the state distributes the vaccines it receives from the federal government to the various counties.
At-Large Council member Evan Glass called the state’s decision-making “perplexing.”
“I’m trying to figure out how the state is fairly and equitably distributing the short supply of vaccines that we have and why here in Montgomery County, with a population of nearly 1.1 million people, our residents are not receiving more,” Glass said.
But, he added, “We are at the mercy of the state, and the state is at the mercy of the federal government.”
Phase 1c next week also likely delayed
Overall, the limited supply also risks delaying the county’s move to further tiers of Phase 1b, such as teachers, as well as Phase 1c, which includes people age 65 and older. Under the state guidelines, Phase 1c is set to start Jan. 25.
Overall, the state receives a total of about 72,000 vaccine doses weekly from the federal government, which is then parceled out to the counties.
Montgomery County alone estimates there are between 100,000 and 140,000 of its residents to be vaccinated under Phase 1b, which has yet to get underway.
“So, if the state of Maryland gave us every single dose the state received, it would take us at least two weeks to vaccinate all of what’s in 1b before we could move on to 1c,” Stoddard said.
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