January 28, 2021

Message from County Executive Marc Elrich

Dear Friends:

COVID-19 vaccines continue to be the No. 1 topic in every conversation—and that is what I want to write about here. I have been receiving a number of questions related to the distribution plans for vaccinations in the County, so I will try to answer many of them.

Does Montgomery County have vaccines lying around?

No! We do not. No vaccines sent to the Montgomery County Health Department are going to waste. And none of our doses are sitting on a shelf. By the end of each week, we have given out all of the first doses that we receive from the State that week.

How many people has the County Health Department vaccinated?

So far, more than 26,000 people have received first doses of vaccines from the County.

How many people in Montgomery County are currently eligible for a vaccine?

More than 200,000 people are currently eligible in the County, which includes Priority Groups 1A (key frontline workers), 1B (which includes residents 75 and older) and 1C (which includes residents 65 and older).

How many vaccines come to Montgomery County each week?

The maximum number of vaccines currently being distributed to the County from the State is about 18,000 to 20,000. That maximum is the total for all entities giving out vaccines, which include hospitals, health services, private pharmacies and the County Health Department.

How many vaccines come to Maryland each week?

About 70,000 vaccines currently are being sent to Maryland each week—and those must be divided among the 23 counties and the City of Baltimore. By State direction, more than 1.5 million people are currently eligible for those doses.

Are there more people eligible for a vaccine than doses available?

Yes! Demand far exceeds supply.

Didn’t the State say that everyone in Phase 1 is eligible for a vaccine?

Yes, but ELIGIBLE is the key word. Everyone in Phase 1 can preregister HERE.

Why can’t I get a vaccine appointment?

The demand for vaccines is much greater than the supply. In Montgomery County alone, more than 200,000 people are currently eligible for a vaccine. There is a maximum of about 18,000 to 20,000 vaccines available each week for those 200,000 people. That maximum is the total for all resources giving out vaccines—hospitals, health services, private pharmacies and the County Health Department.

Should I preregister even if vaccines may not be available right now?

Yes. If you are in a Priority Group in Phase 1, you should preregister.

Once I preregister, how soon will I get the information for a vaccination appointment?

It could be weeks or longer before you get an appointment. There are many more people who need and want the vaccine than there are doses available. While all people in Phase 1 are eligible, vaccine supply to our County has not significantly increased. Telling more people that they are eligible did not change the State’s or the County’s supply. What it has done is lead people to believe that we are ready to vaccinate them. We are ready—we just do not have the vaccines to distribute right now.

How are the groups prioritized?

The State has reiterated that it is the County’s responsibility is to finish the 1A group, since the people in that group protect our health and safety and their jobs make them vulnerable to exposure. We cannot afford for them to get sick. After the people in Group 1A, the next priority group of 1B includes people who are 75 and older. The State expects the group of residents 75 and older to be our priority until we have completed that group. And at the rate that the County Health Department has been allocated vaccines, that will be a while. You can find the priority group listing here.

Where will vaccination clinics be?

Some will be at County-sponsored sites and some will be at sites provided by hospitals and health care systems. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are continuing to vaccinate staff and residents at congregate living facilities.

Is there any place else where I can get vaccinated?

If you are eligible in Phase 1, you can also look for a vaccination site on the State’s website. Several of our hospital partners in the County, as well as certain pharmacies, will be administering vaccines to eligible groups. Expect to have to check each of their websites frequently because our partners have very limited vaccine doses and spaces fill quickly. To highlight that point: Giant pharmacies in our County that will distribute vaccines are only receiving enough doses to give 50 vaccines a day. Those slots will not last long.

Why did my neighbor get an appointment from her doctor?

Some doctors are connected to hospitals that have received vaccines. In some cases, those health systems have opened up their clinics for eligible prior patients of the health systems.

If I have preregistered, how will I know when I will get an appointment?

Once you have pre-registered, you have to wait for an email link, which will come from c19vaccination@montgomerycountymd.gov. When you do get it, do not forward it to others.

What if my friends send me a link from the County?

Do not use it. We have had a lot of confusion and frustration with people receiving forwarded links that allowed them to register for an appointment when they were not yet eligible. You may be wondering in this day and age, why is that still possible? Couldn’t they design a system where the link could not be forwarded and have avoided this whole problem?

Theoretically: Yes. But the State used an existing system that has worked well for flu vaccines, which are quite plentiful and easy to distribute. The system was not designed for this high-demand, low-supply vaccine, nor was it designed to accommodate prioritization of the order in which people get the vaccines.

I had a great conversation with Governor Hogan earlier this week and we discussed this problem. As a result, his staff is working with our staff to address this. They have already made some improvements and are working on more. This is not just a Montgomery County problem: scheduling overload is burdening all of the County Executives that I spoke with yesterday.

I very much appreciate the Governor’s responsiveness, but even with this cooperation, these problems cannot be fixed by us and they cannot be fixed overnight. People may be able to get appointments from a forwarded link and then their appointment will be cancelled if they are not supposed to have an appointment. That leads to confusion and frustration, so do not forward a link and please do not use a link that was forwarded to you.

What about staff for Montgomery County Public Schools?

In an effort to help toward providing some in-person instruction this spring, our hospital partners are going to offer vaccines to certain education staff as identified by the school administration. Again, it will be limited supplies.

Why do our hospitals sometimes get more vaccines than the County Health Department?

It is likely because of the type of vaccine. The health care system gets the Pfizer vaccines, which must be stored at extremely cold temperatures of between 112 and 76 degrees below freezing. The County does not have storage capability for those vaccines and we were told at the beginning not to purchase storage for those vaccines. The County Health Department receives Moderna vaccines that are easier to store. This difference in storage temperatures impacts where the doses are sent and who distributes them.

What about second doses?

Both types of vaccines currently available require a second dose. So even if supply increases, many of those doses will have to be used as second doses.

What is next?

Please be patient. The lack of supply is a problem in the State, in the country and around the world. I am hopeful that it will improve in the coming weeks and months, and I hope you understand that we are doing our part to get the vaccines to you as fast as possible.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that this week we lost our fourth County employee to COVID-19, Blanca Kling. I knew her for many years and especially remember her work with the community after the explosion at the Piney Branch apartments. She was deeply involved in, and committed to, the community. We feel her loss deeply and extend our sincere condolences to all of her family, friends and co-workers.

Blanca’s death is a grim reminder that COVID-19 is still very much with us. As we await vaccinations, I continue to plead with you to maintain physical distance, wash your hands frequently and wear a mask so that we can slow the spread as much as possible.

Marc Elrich
County Executive