January 14, 2021

Message County Executive Marc Elrich

Dear Friends,

As I am writing this letter, Governor Larry Hogan has just held a news conference about changes to the distribution system for the COVID-19 vaccine. I want you to know that my staff and I are reviewing his statements and will share information with you as we have it.

Speaking of information, I think over the past week we have seen extreme examples of how dangerous misinformation can be. Here in Montgomery County, I am concerned that there is misinformation being circulated about vaccines and distribution. I want to use this space to share actual information with you.

I have received many questions, such as: When can I get the vaccine? Why are my friends in other states getting the vaccine and I can’t? Can’t I register in advance? Can’t you move any faster? Why is it taking so long? Why are you sitting on a ton of vaccines and why don’t you get them out?

First, let me be very clear: We are administering the vaccines as we receive them. We do NOT have unused vaccines lying around or going to waste. You can see this information on our special COVID website at https://montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/vaccine/.

As you may know, the State—not the County—receives the vaccines and then distributes the doses. For the past four weeks, we have received vaccines from the State. Each week, we get two-to-three days’ notice of when they will arrive and how many doses we will receive. We cannot make plans to administer those doses until we have that information. 

Some have asked why we do not ask our employees to work through the weekend to finish vaccine distribution as fast as possible. Our public health and logistics staff has worked non-stop since this pandemic began more than 10 months ago. They are tired. They are willing to work as much as needed, but right now, we do not need them to work on the weekends because we do not have enough vaccine doses from the State. We can—and have—used all the doses before the next supply arrives. If we use our doses quickly during the week, we do not get more doses.

To date, the County has only received 19,800 doses. We have approximately 750,000 County residents who are eligible for these doses. Some will receive doses directly from hospitals or nursing homes, but most will not.

The vaccines that are currently available from two drug companies require two doses about four weeks apart to be fully effective. That makes the math simple: We may need 1.5 million doses to cover all residents if these remain the only two types of vaccines. So even as the number of doses we receive increases, we must use some of them to give the second shot to people who have already received their first vaccine.

The chart below shows what we have received so far and how the second doses will be administered. 

As you can see, the first 100 people are now receiving their second doses and the chart tells when the others need to receive their second doses.

In the week of Jan. 27, we will need 4,200 doses just for the people who already received their first shot. Even if we received 12,200 doses that week, only 8,000 new people would receive a dose.

For the week of Feb. 3, we need to use 8,600 doses as second shots. So even if we receive 16,600 doses, only 8,000 of those doses will go to new people.

We think—actually, we hope—we will receive more doses next week, possibly around Jan. 19. We are waiting to hear from the State about how many doses we will receive and when we will receive them.

If we receive more doses, we will make sure they are quickly administered and we will continue to do it based on CDC guidance. That means we have to prioritize groups because we have many more people needing vaccines than doses available. We explain the priorities on our website.

Right now, we have the capacity to administer many more doses than we have received. And we are working with partners around the County on how to increase that capacity. In addition, we are talking with our counterparts in other jurisdictions to learn what they are doing.

I know many of you want to know: When will it be my turn?

We do not know when it will be your turn. It depends on how many doses we receive from the State. I know that the Governor has said that residents 75 and older (approximately 73,000 in our County), and others, should be prioritized beginning next week. The plan only works if we receive many more doses from the State than we are currently receiving.

In other states, people 75 and older may already be receiving their vaccines for a variety of reasons. Some states may have received more doses than Maryland. Jurisdictions within a state may have received different amounts of doses depending on that state’s allocation formulas. Additionally, states may have decided to move into Phase 1b of priority groupings even if Phase 1a is not complete. Also, a state may not have followed the CDC guidelines for prioritization. There may be other reasons. 

But I want you to know that we are not holding back vaccines and we are administering them first to the people at greatest risk of exposure – as directed by the CDC. 

How will you know when it is your turn? If you have email and internet access, please sign up for our updates on our webpage.

We are working on a system that will allow people to register in advance. We are learning from mistakes in other places where the systems are crashing. We want our system to be able to handle the number of people we expect to sign up.

There also are many people who do not have easy access to email and the internet and we want to be able to reach them when it is their turn. These are issues of equity and fairness.

We are also adapting as information and supplies change. The Federal government has said it will release more doses—we are awaiting information about what that means. Next week, we will have a new President and administration and there may be more changes. We are in constant contact with officials at the State and Federal levels, as well as with other local officials and public health experts.

I hope this has helped give a sense of vaccine distribution. We will continue to provide updated information.

In the meantime, please remember that we all need to maintain physical distance and to wash hands frequently. And wear a mask. Please stay safe.

Marc Elrich
County Executive