This story was updated at 8 p.m. Nov. 17, 2021, with a comment from Pfizer.
Montgomery County officials expect the county’s supply of COVID-19 vaccination doses to drop based on what the state is sending.
Officials said Wednesday that the county has the bandwidth to get more coronavirus vaccine doses to 5- to 11-year-olds in the coming weeks, but fewer doses have come in the last few weeks than in the first shipment.
County Executive Marc Elrich shared data with reporters that showed that so far, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services has administered 19,759 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 5- to 11-year-olds.
That’s higher than all other jurisdictions in the state. The next highest is Anne Arundel County, with 6,617 doses administered.
Elrich and other county officials said, however, that the county doesn’t expect to get enough doses next week to keep up with its pace of administering them.
In the first allocation around Nov. 2, the county received 13,200 doses. But late last week, the county Department of Health and Human Services received roughly 7,000 doses.
The department anticipates that it also will get about 7,000 later this week, since the federal government has cut what it sends to the state.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said there’s “no question” the county is not getting enough doses, compared to what it could administer. Many say the county should be running more clinics and acting more swiftly, but county officials are distributing doses as quickly as they can, he added.
“We’re concerned that the pace is not moving the way that we are capable of having to move,” Stoddard said. “The bottleneck is in the delivery of doses to us, not in our ability to distribute.”
Officials have previously said that Montgomery County government gets about one-third of the doses sent to the county. The rest go to pediatricians, pharmacies, hospitals, nonprofits and private sector entities.
On Wednesday, Elrich showed data indicating that of all of the pediatric first doses administered countywide, 61% have been by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, suggesting that even though the private sector is getting more doses, it is administering fewer.
Elrich told reporters the government and private sector have different priorities when distributing the vaccine, which could explain that difference.
“Our mission is getting these things out the door to people who need them as quickly as possible,” Elrich said. “We just have very different motivators, which is why I firmly believe more of the doses ought to be going to us because we will actively work to put those doses out. I’m not waiting for a customer to come through my door and go shopping and think, ‘Oh, by the way, I think we’ll stop and get a vaccine.’”
Stoddard said there are multiple factors. First, fewer doses are coming from the federal government to Maryland.
Asked if there is an adequate supply of its vaccine doses, Pfizer’s media relations office responded in an email:
“We have been providing doses according to the U.S. government’s preferred channel and designated vaccination locations. Our deliveries remain on track to meet the established commitments, as agreed with the U.S. government.”
Aside from that issue, there are also doses sitting in refrigerators countywide, Stoddard said, so the state needs to work with the county to change the allocation to make sure shots are getting into kids’ arms as quickly as possible.
“There is certainly not a gap in the want from the public at this point,” Stoddard said of vaccine demand. “There’s certainly a mismatch that’s occurring between who has doses and where there are opportunities to provide those doses.”
Asked about the state’s distribution of vaccine doses, Andy Owen, the deputy director for media relations for the Maryland Department of Health, emailed a statement to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday:
“In October, the Maryland Department of Health performed an initial survey of all of our COVID-19 vaccine provider partners, including local health departments and providers of various types, about their expectations for local demand for vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds. Feedback and allocation requests received through the survey were used to inform vaccine allocation decisions, with geographic allocation and equity as considerations.
“Prior to each additional release of vaccine, we do another, similar survey to ensure that we are continuing to meet the needs of our partners, as expressed by the partners themselves. As always, we continue to make allocation decisions with geography and equity as key considerations.”
Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters that another factor could be that his department decided to get as many first doses of the vaccine out to the eligible population as possible.
Private providers instead might have chosen to make sure everyone is scheduled for a second dose of the vaccine, he added. But that probably doesn’t account for the overall difference between how much his department is administering versus the private sector, Crowel said.
Stoddard said the larger issue is with the federal government distributing fewer vaccine doses to Maryland, which then has to distribute them through multiple channels. But it’s not the only issue, he added.
“It could be made a whole lot better by the state being more intentional about where they release the doses the state does receive, and making sure that there are shorter timelines … [that] those recipients have to distribute them,” Stoddard said.
“I think their effort to provide a multitude of different avenues for people to access vaccine is laudable, it’s appropriate,” he added. “But they have to hold the people who receive vaccine accountable for getting the vaccine out, and getting the vaccine out in an equitable manner.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org