Our new President and Vice President were sworn into office on Wednesday. They arrive at a time of great challenges and great possibilities. I am hopeful that, with their leadership and everyone’s hard work, we will get more help for the many businesses, individuals and localities that are struggling. I also hope that we will have a national plan for distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that gets as many people vaccinated as possible—and quickly.
Here in Montgomery County, I want to update you on where we are with vaccines and try to provide some clarity to what is confusing and raising concern for some.
Everything we are doing is focused on being fair, equitable AND efficient.
We are being efficient in the respect that the County does not have unused doses lying around. Each week, we administer 100 percent of the doses we receive.
How do the doses get distributed? The states receive vaccines and do the distribution. The amounts and distribution vary state to state (and the District of Columbia gets its own distribution).
The entire State of Maryland only receives about 72,000 doses per week.
Montgomery County is generally told by the State on the weekend how many doses we will receive on Tuesday of each week. This week, we were told on Monday how many doses we would receive on Tuesday. I hope you understand the difficulty of advance planning with such little notice.
The State does not give information on what to expect for the following week. It is our understanding that, at least over the next few weeks, the State will continue to receive about 72,000 doses per week. That is the total for all the hospitals, nursing homes and counties.
This week, we received 11,900 doses in total. However, the State designated 4,600 as second doses for individuals who have already received their first doses. That means we have 7,300 doses for new vaccinations, as you can see below.
Total doses received
Doses for second dose
We all agree that 7,300 is a small number of people getting vaccinated.
As of today—based on Governor Larry Hogan’s announcements—more than 110,000 people in Montgomery County are eligible for the vaccine. Beginning on Monday, more than 200,000 people will be eligible as the State enters Phase Priority 1C, which includes residents 65 and older.
This is a supply and demand issue. The demand for the vaccine far outweighs the supply available.
While the number of people who are immediately eligible has increased dramatically, vaccine supply has not changed. If our allocation continues at current levels, we can only vaccinate about 7,000 new people each week (and in coming weeks, more people will begin to need second doses).
So, what are we doing about this situation?
We all know we cannot affect the manufacturing of the vaccines, so we are following the Federal Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines on how to prioritize who gets the vaccine first.
As the CDC explains, these priorities were created in order to:
- Decrease death and serious disease as much as possible.
- Preserve the function of society.
- Reduce the extra burden COVID-19 is having on people already facing disparities.
Priority Group 1A includes the people at greatest risk of exposure because of the work they do or where they live.
This includes emergency responders, law enforcement, health providers and behavioral health staff. It also includes hospital staff and staff and residents in nursing homes. We are finishing giving first vaccines to this group now.
The doses for the hospitals and nursing homes are not sent to the County. Those doses are distributed directly to those entities.
We have also begun the preregistration process for people in Group 1B, including seniors 75 and older. We expect this group to begin receiving doses next week. But remember: we are likely to have 7,000 doses next week for more than 70,000 eligible people.
You may have heard about some people being able to register and get appointments for vaccines. You may have also heard about others who registered and showed up for what they thought was an appointment, but found out they did not have valid appointments to receive vaccines. I would like to explain why.
To register for a vaccine appointment, people must use the State registration system, which also is important for tracking who receives the doses. That system was not designed with a filter, so if someone forwards a link that was only intended for them, others can use the link. And that creates confusion and frustration. People sign up for spots that were not intended for them and others are turned away from what they think was their rightful appointment. And others who were in line to get an appointment cannot get one. Please do not use a link that is forwarded to you.
That is why we have a County preregistration system. We will be contacting people and sending them the link to register and get the vaccine.
You may be wondering: If you have preregistered, when will you be contacted for an appointment? We do not know.
We only find out each week how many doses we will have—and there are not nearly enough.
And, remember, every week we will have to use some doses that we receive for people who need the second dose.
I hope this gives you some sense of the process. I know some people are frustrated and impatient, but I hope that I have conveyed that we are getting out our vaccines as fast as we receive them—and we are doing it in a way that is as efficient as possible.
In the meantime, I want to remind people that our new daily case count is still very high. You can see that in the graph below. You can also see this graph at https://montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/data/.
Following the guidelines continues to be very important. Maintain physical distance, wash your hands frequently and please continue to #MaskupMoCo.
The Governor held a press conference today and called on all Maryland school systems to return to in-person or hybrid instruction by March 1. We all want our children back in school as quickly as possible, but we cannot simply pick an arbitrary date without metrics, vaccination quantities and plans to reach our education staff. As much as I hope that the virus is more contained by the first week of March than it is right now, there is no evidence that we can count on that—particularly with the limited number of vaccines available (which, to be clear, is not the Governor’s fault).
I am a former teacher and fully understand the importance of in-person learning. In this moment, we still have very high cases—and the existing guidelines have not changed. Dr. Anthony Fauci has talked about the importance of reducing community transmission as part of the path to schools reopening. Currently, our rate is quite high, as you can see from the above chart. The Governor, in making the case for reopening schools, stated that children are not a major source of transmission, but because so many children are asymptomatic, it is difficult to trace cases back to them. Phasing and a hybrid model of returning to in-person learning that were proposed by the Governor make sense for reopening, but reopening must proceed with metrics, planning and a focus on vaccinations for at-risk adults. Montgomery County Public Schools has a large number of staff in high-risk categories.
The Biden Administration will be issuing new guidelines that should be useful in determining how to move forward safely (unlike the Trump Administration, whose guidelines seemed to change based on trying to justify that the high number of COVID cases across the country did not violate the guidelines). Our public health staff will continue to consult with the Board of Education, which will make the decisions about reopening. With a limited supply of vaccine and ongoing high rates of transmission, decisions must be based on science to protect our education staff, students and their families.
Thank you for your ongoing understanding.