Montgomery County, Maryland, officials on Monday said that the county’s vaccine allotment last week from the state was down by about 1,000 from the week before, and “We do not have a good explanation” why.
That was the word from the county’s Health and Human Services Director Dr. Raymond Crowel during an online briefing Monday.
Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said, “We could vaccinate more than 25,000 residents a week if the state would just give us the doses.”
Hucker, Crowel and council Vice President Gabe Albornoz also said they had “concern” — although no hard evidence — that the mass vaccination sites opened by the state last week are taking away from county allotments.
Asked whether Montgomery County was on the list for any mass vaccination sites in the near future, Crowel said, “We have broached the topic” with Gov. Larry Hogan, but that “To my knowledge, he has not made a commitment.”
Montgomery County, Hucker said, is home to 17% of the population of Maryland, and 73,000 people over age 75, who are among the first people who are supposed to receive vaccinations.
In a statement after the meeting, Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said, “The official data shows that the county is still sitting on more than 6,000 first doses right now … that gives them a lower administration rate than just about every county.”
He added that the officials were talking about the allotment for the public health department and that “Local health departments are one facet of an expanding distribution network. Allocations are distributed to each county equitably based on population across all providers.”
On Sunday, the health department in Howard County, Maryland, reported that they had also received a smaller allotment, 1,700 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, on Saturday. “This is less than the 2,000 last week, which was less than the 4,500 the prior week.” They ascribed the decline to “a continued transition from local health departments vaccinating their communities to regional State-run mass vax clinics, retail pharmacies and hospitals operating clinics.”
The county council will meet Tuesday at 10 a.m. to vote on County Executive Marc Elrich’s order allowing indoor dining at 25% capacity and with a 90-minute limit, starting Sunday. (Although it’s an executive order, Hucker explained, it needs to be voted on so that it covers the whole county, including municipalities.)
The original start date was Tuesday, but Hucker said restaurants needed the time to ramp up their operations for Sunday, which is Valentine’s Day and likely a huge day for the industry.
Though Hucker said he supported the measure, he added that it was because the laxer standards of other communities have “eroded” Montgomery County’s efforts at mitigation anyway, so “it makes sense” to bring themselves in line.
A one-stop shop
County officials said they were looking forward to a conference with state Department of Health officials about vaccine distribution, and added that they thought a one-stop method for registering for vaccinations would be the best way to go in the future.
The creation of one portal for all Marylanders to sign up for a spot in line for vaccination “would be an ideal frame,” Crowel said, as long as there was a way to address equity in older and underserved populations.
Even a county-level single-portal system “would simplify things a lot,” he said, rather than the current system in which people can sign up with the county, with private providers and more.
Albornoz agreed, calling the current system “immensely frustrating” and leading to “chaos” at “a level I haven’t seen in 14 years in government.”
“Whoever has digital access and fast fingers” can get into the state site, Crowel said.
“Whoever has a car and a way to take off work,” Hucker added.
Albornoz said as well that a one-stop system would be better for people who don’t speak English, who don’t have technological capability and who don’t have hours to spend on hold.
Crowel said that teachers in the county are being called in to get their vaccines according to a priority list that has been furnished by the school department.
That said, he encouraged teachers to find their own vaccines if they can: “I would not tell anyone to just wait on a queue. … If it’s going to be a while … I think it’s appropriate.”
He added that he had had “very useful conversations” with the group Vaccine Hunters, who help people negotiate the process. They’ve had “some success,” Crowel said, and “We are absolutely looking to grow that relationship.”
Hucker also said that the team of workers who helped Montgomery County residents sign up for the 2020 Census has been reformed to head into communities to identify where outreach needs to be targeted.
Hucker added that state leadership has improved the COVID-19 financial aid package to $1.9 billion, but “it’s still somewhat insufficient,” and hopes the House will improve the Senate bill.
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