Montgomery County, Maryland, officials say they plan to meet later this week to discuss plans for phasing out the county’s COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the Germantown campus of Montgomery College as they pivot to more pop-up vaccine opportunities amid slowing demand for shots.
The county still has vaccine appointments scheduled through June 19 at the Germantown site, and officials suggested there would likely be some appointments scheduled after that.
Earl Stoddard, the county’s director of the office of emergency management and homeland security, told members of the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday that officials would be meeting Thursday to “see what the drawdown will look like based on the volume over the last two weeks.”
Last week, officials said they were still administering about 3,000 shots a day at all of the county’s sites, including the Germantown site, but demand for the large-scale site is waning as thousands of the people most eager for shots have already been vaccinated.
Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a gradual phase-out for most of the dozen mass vaccination sites across the state, including the site at Six Flags theme park in neighboring Prince George’s County, which was the first large-scale vaccine site to open in the state.
Because it’s a joint county-state operation, Montgomery County can set its own closing date for the Germantown site, which first opened in late March.
The plans come as the county is shifting to more community-based and pop-up sites to better target the shots to parts of the county where vaccination rates are lagging amid an overall high rate of vaccination in the county.
“We are assessing our demand rates and where we should go and target our vaccine strategies,” said Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer.
Overall, at least 65% of all county residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and — by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s count — 63% of residents are fully vaccinated. Among just the 12-and-older population that’s currently eligible for shots of one of the three authorized vaccine options, more than 74% are fully vaccinated.
However, data and maps Bridgers presented to members of the council indicated several concentrated areas, particularly along the eastern edge of the county near the border with Prince George’s, where vaccine rates are severely lagging.
According to the map Bridgers presented, parts of Silver Spring, along the eastern edge of the county, as well as Montgomery Village and Gaithersburg, in the central part, have struggled to get above 30% of their residents with at least one dose — just half of the countywide rate.
“Plainly put, this is an area of the county that there’s a need,” Bridgers said.
An earlier event planned in partnership with Prince George’s County in the eastern part of the county near the Langley Park neighborhood fell through, Bridgers said, “so we had to take a step back.”
The county is now working with the state health department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on deploying mobile vaccination units to those areas where vaccination rates are lagging.
Across the county, there are also racial and ethnic gaps in terms of the pace of vaccinations, although Stoddard noted that, more recently, the county has seen “a huge reduction in hesitancy” among the county’s Latino population.
He said that “the last remaining big gap that we have” is among the county’s younger Black and African American population.
In addition to smaller-scale, more targeted pop-up clinics, Council member Craig Rice, who represents District 2, said there’s also a role for members of the community to play.
“Quite honestly, it’s not going to be more [about] what government can do now at this point; it’s what people can do,” he said, urging people to reach out to hesitant neighbors.
“Maybe you’ll be able to answer a question; maybe you’ll be able to stave off some fears that they may have about getting a vaccine,” Rice said. “And you can talk about your own experiences and your family’s experiences, your children’s experiences.”
The changes to the county’s vaccine distribution network come as there are still questions about whether people who have already been vaccinated will need booster shots later — even as early as this fall.
“As we downsize, we’re trying to keep in place some of the contracts and the infrastructure that would allow us to scale back up as necessary,” Stoddard said.
But he said he’s hoping if booster shots are needed, they would be largely available at doctor’s offices and other similar sites — similar to the way people get their annual flu shots — as opposed to mass vaccination sites.
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