Elderly residents living in one of the hardest hit areas by COVID-19 in Montgomery County, Maryland, were finally able to get their first dose of the vaccine Sunday at the East County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring.
Residents 75 and older were eligible to receive their vaccine at the recreation center, situated in one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 cases and deaths in the county. Among those being vaccinated was 100-year-old Harvey Zeigler, a veteran and longtime resident of Montgomery County.
Arthur L. Williams, 82, has been a county resident for over 50 years. He said he was initially skeptical about getting the vaccine, citing the “Tuskegee Study” of untreated syphilis on Black men as the cause for his hesitancy. However, Williams said his wife and family members helped changed his mind to get the vaccine.
“Anything that the government is giving out free to me, I tend to be a little skeptical,” Williams said.
The event was filled with local leaders and health executives. Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the National American Public Health Association, said the only way to end the health disparities is to “go where the need is.”
“You take the shots to the people; you don’t ask the people to come to the shots,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin also said a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that Americans lost one year of life expectancy is “really, really big deal.”
“In Hispanic men, two years of life; African American, men three years of life,” Benjamin said. “So what we’re going to do — we’re going to vaccinate as quickly as many people we can in the highest priority areas. That means our seniors and then, within that category, communities of color.”
County Executive Marc Elrich addressed the county’s vaccine shortage, saying the number of vaccine doses available “is way smaller” than the number of people eligible to receive it. Councilmember Will Jawando said Governor Larry Hogan was partially to blame for the county’s shortage of vaccines.
“Meanwhile, [the] governor and his health department sent the majority of the vaccinations to private sector entities who are not focused on getting it out equitably,” Jawando said. “That’s what this is about; that’s why we’re here.”
One of the solutions the state should consider is creating a mass vaccination site in the county, Council President Tom Hucker said.
“I’m glad Baltimore has one; I’m glad Prince George’s has one,” Hucker said. “We need one in the largest county in the state where we have the most deaths in the state. Right here, in Montgomery County.”
The county’s health department prioritizes vaccinating residents 75 and older from the ZIP codes most ravaged by the virus in priority groups 1a and 1b. It estimates about 50 percent of eligible residents have received their first dose.
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