Montgomery Co. officials address COVID-19 vaccine accessibility concerns during town hall

As of Thursday, under 73,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered at nine county-run sites in Montgomery County, Maryland, according to the county’s chief health officer.

“We have vaccinated more than any other jurisdiction in first doses as well as second doses,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer and chief of public health services.

Supply of vaccine remains an issue, with the county expecting 4,500 first doses per week for the next few weeks. Demand for the vaccine is outpacing supply in several D.C.-area jurisdictions.

During a virtual town hall with the county’s council, County Executive Marc Elrich said his hope is the number of doses will improve by mid-March.

“The lack of vaccines is leading to a lot of disappointment, we understand that, we hear you and we’re doing everything to get the government to increase our share of the supply,” Elrich said.

Elrich addressed the frustration people have expressed about the registration process. Those who want to be vaccinated can register with the county to get a shot at its clinics.

For a chance at an earlier shot, the public can also try to sign up for an appointment with other non-county run sites, such as clinics at pharmacies and grocery stores.

Elrich said the county would like to host a state-run mass vaccination center, like those in Prince George’s County and Baltimore. Currently, the county does not have one.

However, Elrich added that organizing such a site should result in the county receiving additional doses that don’t count against its allotment.

During the town hall, county leaders fielded multiple questions from the community.

While some people wanted to know when they could get vaccinated, others complained about the process, with one woman asking if a single registration system could be used to sign up for the vaccine. To that question, Elrich said the decision belongs to the state.

“We really do need the state to provide a uniform registration and scheduling system, and we can’t do it, they won’t let us do it,” Elrich said.

For its clinics, Montgomery County is currently making appointments for people in vaccination groups 1a and the first tier of 1b.

Pharmacies and other vaccination sites partnering with the state have those in groups 1a through 1c eligible for shots.

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.

Some community members raised concerns about what is being done to reach people living in areas hardest hit by the pandemic, including Black and brown communities.

Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said there are discussions to reactivate the teams used to encourage people to take the census as part of targeting those communities.

“To reach out and to establish those connections, to use those culturally-appropriate partners we used for the census to help us with the vaccination process,” Crowel said.

The teams would be used to educate people about the vaccine and help them understand how to sign up.

Resident Reda Sheinberg wanted to know if people should withdraw their registration with the county if they are able to get their shots elsewhere.

Earl Stoddard, director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said to solve that potential problem, the county is working with the state to access its list of vaccinated residents.

That would allow the county to compare its list with the state’s list, he said. Those who have been vaccinated elsewhere could be automatically taken off the waiting list for the county’s sites.

As Montgomery County Public Schools start bringing kids back to class on March 1, parent Maureen Stiles expressed concerns about having the vaccination site at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg remain open after students return to class.

Gayles said procedures are in place to minimize the risk of any potential spread of the illness, and the system appears to be working.

“We haven’t had any instances where we’ve had community transmission at any of our vaccine sites to date,” Gayles said.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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