February 4, 2021
Here is a quick update on recent developments:
This week the Health and Government Operations Committee held an oversight hearing on the vaccine rollout. I requested the Department of Health reconsider its policy of using a simple per capita allocation of vaccine doses in light of the fact that the DC Metro region is significantly lagging the rest of the state in our percent of population vaccinated.
The statewide rate of vaccination is 7.8%. Montgomery County is nearly a full percentage behind the state average, at 6.8%. Prince George's is at only 3.4%. Baltimore County has nearly 9% of its population vaccinated, and some rural counties have more than 13% vaccination rates.
One reason for this is that the vast majority of vaccines to date have gone to protect our essential workers. Between one third and one half of our workforce lives outside of Montgomery County. Among the hospital employees offered vaccines, nearly half live in other jurisdictions within Maryland or DC. A large percentage of our police, fire, and EMS also live outside of Montgomery County. We are seeing this reflected in the fact that Montgomery County is ranked 22 out of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland for the percentage of population vaccinated. Of course, vaccinating our essential workforce is, well, essential (and absolutely the right thing to do!). We just need a vaccine allocation that acknowledges their numbers and doesn’t disadvantage Montgomery County.
In addition to lagging in percentage vaccinated, we are also leading the pack in the length of our waitlist and competition for the vaccine. This is because Montgomery County has among the highest percentage of people eligible for the vaccine (this includes Montgomery County’s essential workers who live in the County and outside of the County and Montgomery County residents over age 65) - a fact that is not addressed by the state’s per capita allocation strategy. Simply put, the state needs to send more vaccines to the hospitals and health departments in jurisdictions where more people are eligible for the vaccine. Otherwise, Montgomery County’s seniors and our essential workers will be waiting much longer for vaccine access than our neighbors in other parts of Maryland.
According to the State Plan on Aging, people 85+ make up 1.7% of Maryland's population- but in Montgomery County, they are 2.1% of the population. The County is above the state average for 75+ and 65+ as well.
Of course, long waitlists of seniors and essential workers make it harder for smaller eligible groups to get vaccinated, like the immunocompromised and people with developmental disabilities.
The other thing we need to do is send more vaccines to the areas of the state that have the greatest COVID spread and highest COVID death rates. Three of the top five zip codes for COVID case counts in the state are in Montgomery County. A fourth is in Prince George's County. Montgomery County has the most COVID deaths in the state, followed closely by our neighbor Prince George's. It doesn’t make sense for Maryland to allow the DC suburbs to lag the rest of the state in vaccinations, While a simple per capita allocation was efficient in the early weeks of the rollout, it has become clear through the data that is not equitable or effective. It's now time to have an updated formula with these factors in mind to ensure the DC Metro region does not fall further behind.
I am hopeful that the Department will update its current allocation formula to reflect Montgomery County’s extremely large health care workforce and senior population. Both of these factors have combined to make the Montgomery County waitlist for vaccine access over 250,000 people. While hospitals, the Health Department, and pharmacies have vaccinated about 20,000 residents over age 75, there are still 53,000 seniors in this age range awaiting vaccination. At our current vaccination rate, it will take 4-5 weeks for Montgomery County to vaccinate all of our 75+ population.
The federal long term care partnership with Walgreens and CVS has finally picked up speed. All Skilled Nursing Facilities have had a first round of vaccination completed. Assisted Living Facilities will have their first-round completed by mid-February. Independent Living communities are facing a tougher time. Many have been scheduled for vaccinations as part of the Federal partnership, but some have not. They have been directed to form partnerships with hospitals and the Health Department to arrange for vaccination clinics.
MARYLAND’S REGISTRATION PROCESS
My colleagues and I also pressed Health Department Acting Secretary Dennis Schrader to streamline the registration and appointment process. The members of the Senate Vaccine Taskforce sent the same message in a similar briefing on Monday. No promises were made but hopefully, that message was heard loud and clear! Requiring Marylanders to visit multiple websites and register multiple times is inefficient, confusing, and inequitable to those without Internet access or free time - it just shouldn’t be this hard!
News stories this week raised the alarm regarding the availability of second doses in Maryland. Second doses automatically come from the federal government as part of the state’s weekly allotment and are not included in our weekly count of 88,000 doses. This week, as part of the transition to the Biden Administration, some second doses were delivered late. However, they were eventually accounted for. Evidently, the tracking system inherited from the former Administration left something to be desired. That said, second doses should continue to be available at the same provider where you got your first dose- even if that was in Prince George’s County prior to their announcing they will only serve their residents.
Another issue that needs to be resolved surrounds allotments for employees at NIH. Both the federal government and Maryland have provided a portion of the doses necessary to vaccinate essential workers at this critical agency, but an additional 4000+ doses are needed to complete vaccinations for all those eligible in Phase 1A. The agency also needs a guaranteed source of doses for employees and contractors in subsequent phases. This week, Maryland’s federal delegation jointly urged the federal government to provide these doses for NIH. You can read their letter here.
HOW TO FIND A VACCINE
Here are the avenues to a vaccine - note NEW information regarding vaccines for veterans, the expansion of federal partnerships with retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens, and the launch of state-run large scale sites this week.
1.Montgomery County Health Department is vaccinating all of 1A and has limited availability for 1B. The pre-registration process is open for all of 1A, 1B, and 1C. The pre-registration link is located on this website: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/vaccine.
If you prefer telephone, Montgomery County has set up a phone call center. You can call 240.777.2982 to be pre-registered.
Adding yourself to this list is your first step to vaccine access from the Montgomery County Health Department. Montgomery County currently has 250.000 people on the waitlist. Demand still vastly outweighs supply so please be patient. Once it's your turn, the County will email you a link for scheduling your appointment and a list of available clinic times and locations. The email will come from email@example.com.
The County expects it to take 4-5 weeks to get through the 75+ group at current allotment levels. The County is doing a highly efficient job distributing the doses it does get and will move through its waitlist as equitably and quickly as possible.
AGAIN, PLEASE DO NOT SIGN UP USING FORWARDED EMAIL LINKS. The County will cancel your appointment or may turn you away at the clinic if your appointment was made from a forwarded link as opposed to one sent directly to you from the Health Department.
2. Suburban Hospital is serving people over 65 and educators. These continue to be invitation-only clinics. If you have a Hopkins MyChart account, please make sure it is active.
3.Medstar, Adventist, Holy Cross, and Kaiser Permanente are also operating clinics. You can find information on the websites for each hospital or at covidvax.maryland.gov
Click here for MedStar
Click here for Adventist
Click here for Holy Cross
Click here to schedule if you are a Kaiser patient
4. Giant, Rite Aid, Safeway, and Walmart pharmacies have a limited supply and are serving 1A, 1B, and 1C. in limited locations around the state. To search for appointments check covidvax.maryland.gov or visit the individual pharmacy websites. Click here for Giant, Rite Aid, Walmart
, and Safeway.
5. NEW! The federal government expanded its partnership with retail pharmacies. Starting February 11, CVS and Walgreens will begin to offer appointments to eligible populations (1A, 1B, and 1C) at a limited number of locations across the state. Supply initially will be limited but as vaccine supplies increase more stores and additional appointments will be available. Click here for CVS information and here for Walgreens.
6. NEW! State Clinics – The state will launch large vaccination sites at Six Flags and the Baltimore Convention Center later this week. Additional sites will open around the state as more vaccine doses become available. The Six Flags site will be run in coordination with Kaiser Permanente and the Baltimore Convention Center will run in coordination with Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical Center. These sites will serve all eligible Marylanders in 1A, 1B, and 1C. Appointments will be available through covidvax.maryland.gov. I have been strongly advocating for a site in Montgomery County as additional locations are being identified.
7. NEW! VETERANS – The US Department of Veterans Affairs is offering vaccines for veterans enrolled in VA Health Care. Eligible veterans include those who are 65+ and those younger with comorbidities, are homeless, use a wheelchair, or on renal dialysis. Call the Washington DC VA Medical Center at 202.745.4342 or the Martinsburg VA Medical Center at 800.817.3801.
Finally, if you make multiple appointments, please make sure to cancel any extra/unused appointments. That will allow clinics to open up your appointment to other residents in need of vaccine access.
We heard several pieces of good news this week - the federal government is guaranteeing Maryland’s allotment of 88,000 first doses for at least the next three weeks, more clinics are opening up and very promising results were released regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Hopefully, all of this great news will allow the pace of vaccinations to pick up considerably in the coming weeks.
During the vaccine rollout briefing yesterday, Dr. Gabor Kellen, Director of the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, reminded us that just a few months ago our only tools in the fight against COVID were masks and social distancing. Now we have a vaccine to add to that arsenal which is an amazing scientific accomplishment. Stay positive and as hard as it is - be patient. There will eventually be enough vaccine for everyone who wants one. Better days are ahead.