‘Doses sitting in freezers’: Montgomery Co. wants more kids’ COVID-19 vaccines for county clinics

Montgomery County has seen high demand for getting young children vaccinated against COVID-19 — and nearly one-third of the total number of kids vaccinated in Maryland in the first few weeks of the rollout have been in the state’s most populous county.

But county officials say as many as half of the doses distributed to providers in the county, including pharmacies and doctors’ offices, are sitting unused in freezers, and they’re concerned the county health department needs more doses.

“We are not getting enough doses to do what we need to do,” said Earl Stoddard, the assistant chief administrative officer for the county, during an online media briefing. “There’s no question about that. … We’re concerned that the pace is not moving the way that we’re capable of having it move. ”

There are an estimated 100,000 children ages 5 to 11 to be vaccinated in the county.

Overall, of the total roughly 39,000 doses supplied to all providers in the county so far, about 19,800 have been administered, “which means roughly 50% of the doses that were received into the county, through all the systems, have not been distributed at this point,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard said the county health department is getting all its doses into kids’ arms.

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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.

Of the total pediatric doses administered across the county, more than 61% have been distributed by Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services.

(Courtesy Montgomery County)

As with the early stages of the adult rollout of the vaccine, the county appears to be facing a bit of a supply problem.

The federal government is supplying special kid-sized doses of the vaccine to the state of Maryland, which then parcels them out to counties based on population. Vaccines are going to a variety of providers, and local health departments, which are receiving only a fraction of the doses, only control their own supply.

Stoddard said the “biggest bottleneck” is the supply of pediatric doses provided by the federal government, but he and County Executive Marc Elrich also urged the state to shift vaccine doses from other providers that have been slower to distribute them to the county health department to correct what Stoddard called a “mismatch.”

“I hope the state notices this discrepancy and increases the supply to the county government,” Elrich said. “There are a lot of doses sitting in freezers — not ours — around the county that are just sitting there … and if the state would move those doses from places where they’re not being used to us, where we can actually use them, it would be an enormous help in speeding the rate of vaccination in the county.”

Elrich said last weekend, the county had to cancel some vaccine clinics it had initially planned because of the limited doses, and going forward, it will have to start conserving some of its supply to hold back as second doses.

Elrich said pharmacies don’t have strategies for going out and getting residents vaccinated.

“They’re waiting for customers to come through the door,” he said. “Our mission is getting these things out the door to people in need them as quickly as possible … I firmly believe more of the doses ought to be going to us because we will actively work to put those doses out.”

Stoddard said, “We get a lot of pressure saying, ‘Why aren’t there more clinics? Why aren’t you doing more in this area? Why aren’t you providing more doses in this community?’ We don’t have enough doses to cover all the communities that have this great need.”

Meanwhile, Montgomery County is set to reinstate its indoor mask mandate Saturday under a data-driven mask policy tied to the county’s COVID-19 case rate.

‘Premature’ to discuss removing mask mandate

The move comes as neighboring D.C., which has slightly higher case rates, is set to remove its indoor mask policy, by order of Mayor Muriel Bowser, starting Monday Nov. 22.

“That’s their decision,” Elrich said of the D.C. mask mandate lifting. “It’s obviously not the decision I would make.”

He pointed to the current uptick in cases concerns of an ever larger rise tied to the Thanksgiving holiday and the still-ongoing effort to get young children vaccinated.

“I do think it’s premature, and I would feel a lot better about this if we had our kids vaccinated,” Elrich said. “Once we get to 80-85% of our kids vaccinated, I think we’re in a lot better place. But I don’t think we’re in the place where we should be letting up.”

Responding to critics who say the county should look at other data — such as hospital capacity and deaths, both of which have remained low — rather than just case counts,

Stoddard said county officials are prepared to evaluate how they manage the pandemic and based on what data, but don’t think it’s time yet, saying officials want to get more young kids vaccinated first.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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