2021 | Coronavirus

County health officials get help from students in vaccination efforts

Delta variant could change county’s goal of 75 to 80 percent coverage

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A county resident receives her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccine site on Montgomery College's Germantown campus on March 31, 2021.

File Photo

County health officials have enlisted the help of middle and high schoolers in their efforts to vaccinate more of the county’s population.

Several students were part of a weekly media briefing Wednesday with County Executive Marc Elrich and County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, along with other health officials. The students recently completed videos as part of a contest, in which the objective was to convince fellow county residents who haven’t gotten a shot yet to do so, to protect anyone who is not vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, 68.5% of the county’s population was fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those eligible to receive the vaccine — those 12 years and older — 80.8% have done so, according to the CDC.

Christian Testa, a rising junior at Richard Montgomery High School, said it’s important for residents to get vaccinated, and not only because of the protection. He said he’s seen signs of returning to what life was like before the pandemic started. 

“Definitely over these past few months, I’ve seen a really high rate of going back to normal, where a lot more friends are meeting up, a lot more people are able to see each other outside,” Testa said. “And I’ve just noticed a generally higher social aspect to this summer than there was last summer.”

Testa and other students’ efforts come after public health officials, countywide and across the United States, have seen vaccination hesitancy become more of an issue. 

James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer, said there’s “no magic number” the county wants to reach before the fall and winter months. He and his colleagues are watching the health metrics — including variant strains, particularly the delta variant, which originated in India and is most prevalent nationwide.

Earl Stoddard, the county’s director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said about 87 percent of the county’s population is currently eligible to receive the vaccine. To reach “herd immunity,” or at least 75% to 80% of the county’s population being vaccinated, some of the ineligible population would need to receive it, Stoddard said. 

But he added that the final goal could change, depending on what occurs with the delta variant or others.

“I would hate for us to say, ‘Let’s get to 80%,’ and then have a variant come along that requires a herd immunity of 87% or 90% … and so we’re going to keep pushing to get people vaccinated,” Stoddard said.

Incentives could help, Stoddard said, like Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement on Wednesday that those 12 to 17 years old will be entered into a lottery for $50,000 scholarships to state colleges and universities.

And even with the delta variant spreading in the United States, recent studies have shown that the Pfizer vaccine is at least 64% effective against that strain of the virus, Stoddard said. 

“64% is a whole lot better than 0%,” he said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com