With authorization of the first COVID-19 vaccine for some people younger than 16, officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, said they’re already planning strategies to vaccinate young people, and it could involve clinics on school grounds.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in people ages 12-15 late Monday. The vaccine has already received emergency use authorization for those 16 and older.
Vaccinating young people is expected to boost overall vaccination rates in the county, which would spur further reopenings, because the loosening of restrictions is tied to the county’s vaccination rate.
“I think all of us are optimistic about what this means for our county and our region,” County Council President Tom Hucker said Monday during a weekly briefing with reporters. “But there’s still considerable work to do to ensure that all our residents get vaccinated.”
Dr. James Bridgers, Montgomery County’s deputy health officer, said the county is already meeting with Montgomery County Public Schools officials and representatives from nonpublic schools to discuss vaccination protocols for school-age children. One of the questions still to be worked out is if parents who fill out preregistration for their children can give consent via the form, or if they will need to be present when their child is being vaccinated.
The county is also working through whether there will be fixed vaccine clinics at schools or pop-up sites.
“We are working through the policies and procedures of us being able to begin vaccination individuals who are between ages 12 and 15 — so stay tuned,” Bridgers said.
Hucker said he is urging MCPS officials to hold vaccine clinics directly at school “in the most highly impacted areas,” and he called on them to conduct vaccinations on the evenings and weekends to reach more families.
Overall, 56% of the county’s total population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the county’s vaccination data. That’s better than the state and national average.
However, further reopenings in the county are tied to the county’s overall vaccination rate — even though, as it stands now, only people 16 and older are eligible for the shots.
Last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state planned to lift capacity restrictions next month. Earlier Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced she would relax restrictions in the District later this month and do away with them entirely for most industries starting next month.
Bridgers said that health officials continue to monitor the data closely, but that there aren’t any plans for “accelerating” the current reopening plan.
Under the county’s approach tied to vaccination rates, the county will next relax limits once at least 60% of all county residents have had at least one shot. When that happens, indoor gatherings could expand to 250 people, while limits on outdoor gatherings would be lifted entirely. Theaters, restaurants and religious facilities can also all operate at 75% capacity.
“If 55% of our population’s only received one dose, that means we still have 45% that are unvaccinated, so we’re still pretty far from herd immunity, and even when we get there, we’re only part of a region and the state that’s performing less well than Montgomery County,” Hucker said.
“All the good news we’ve been receiving feels very good compared to what we’ve had the last year, but we’re pretty far from being out of the woods.”
The County Council, acting as the board of health, is expected to retool guidance on high school graduations during its meeting Tuesday, Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said.
Later Monday afternoon, County Executive Marc Elrich announced six library branches will reopen next month on an appointment-only basis.
The six libraries are:
- Connie Morella Library, 7400 Arlington Road, Bethesda.
- Gaithersburg Library, 18330 Montgomery Village Ave.
- Marilyn J. Praisner Library, 14910 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville.
- Olney Library, 3500 Olney-Laytonsville Road.
- Rockville Memorial Library, 21 Maryland Ave.
- Silver Spring Library, 900 Wayne Ave.
The hours for all branches are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Appointments are for browsing and checking out materials, picking up holds and using computers for printing, copying and scanning services.
Several members of the County Council have been pushing for libraries to reopen. Elrich told reporters last week that library staffing is down because the county hasn’t been filling vacant positions over the past year.
“I don’t have enough staff right now to open up all the libraries,” Elrich said last week.
In addition, Elrich announced Monday the reopening of two senior centers on June 14: Holiday Park Senior Center at 3950 Ferrara Drive in Silver Spring and the Damascus Senior Center at 9701 Main St.
- Sign up for WTOP alerts
- Latest coronavirus test results in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- Coronavirus vaccine FAQ: What you need to know
- Latest vaccination numbers in DC, Maryland and Virginia