As Montgomery County makes it way through an initial phase of giving COVID-19 vaccinations, some EMS providers have hesitated to get one — right away or at all.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon that about 900 of the county’s 6,000 first responders were vaccinated last week.
“We believe it’s probably 40% or more who are going to have some concerns. But even in the survey that our Fire and Rescue team have done for their staff … there’s a range,” he said. “There are some people who are saying, ‘I don’t want to get it.’ There are some people who are saying, ‘I’d like to see other people get it before I get it.’ There is hesitancy but it’s not necessarily — not all hesitancy is outright refusal.”
He said he expects the county to know more next week about how many first responders might decline to get a vaccine dose, based on how many sign up for vaccinations in the coming days.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, told reporters during the briefing that it’s important for officials to “take some space” to understand the reasons why some people currently eligible for the vaccine are reluctant to get it.
“It could be something personal. It could be something that is rightfully rooted in a historical perspective,” Gayles said. “I think once we can gain a better understanding of what those reasons are, we’ll be able to provide specific guidance.
“This is something that is routine. We understand that in comparison to previous vaccines, things moved quickly. That doesn’t compromise any of the safety around the vaccine and efficacy around the vaccine.”
Different people will have different reasons why they might not want a vaccine, Stoddard said, but once they are eligible, they can sign up during later phases.
Gayles said county staff members and community partners are working together on how to address potential vaccine concerns from residents, so that when people become eligible, their questions have been answering, defusing anxiety and concern.
Gayles received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine a couple weeks ago. He said Wednesday that he has not experienced any side effects. The county made public photos and a video of his experience.
Hospitals are currently vaccinating their employees. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies have partnered with the federal government to administer vaccines in nursing homes.
Meanwhile, county officials are vaccinating first responders, medical providers, vaccinators, testing staff members, and other health workers not covered by a hospital or health system.
The county government received an initial Moderna vaccine shipment of 100 doses on Dec. 23, then 4,200 doses on Dec. 29. As of Tuesday, it had administered 94% — or more than 4,000 — of those doses.
Another 8,600 doses were received by officials Tuesday evening, aiding in vaccinating an estimated additional 5,500 individuals by Friday, Gayles said.
The state relays how many doses will be sent to the county the weekend before each shipment, according to Gayles.
On Tuesday afternoon, county officials sent a list of vaccine priority tiers for each subgroup of Phase 1 in an email to the County Council and its staff members. The county later published the list on its website late Wednesday morning.
In the list sent to the council, officials wrote that the health department is “prepared to respond to anaphylaxis/severe allergic reactions after the COVID-19 vaccination and is pre-screening individuals to determine if there are any contraindications or precautions.”
Gayles said Wednesday that only two of the six hospitals in the county are at full capacity for staffed bed capacity in their intensive care units.
“We cannot stop doing what we’re doing to keep people safe,” he said. “We do need people to continue to adhere to the guidance that we’ve put forward, so that we can hopefully be able to move through all the different priority groups to get effective coverage and protection, so that hopefully sometime in 2021, we’ll be able to return to some semblance of normalcy.”
Residents can sign up to receive updates for vaccine alerts through the county’s website.
Here’s who is eligible in each phase and priority tier. Unless otherwise noted, the list for Phase 1 only includes people unable to work from home and unable to control social distancing in the listed industries.
● Hospital personnel
● Long-term care facility staff members and residents
● Developmental Disability Administration group homes
● Assisted living facilities
● Rest and rehabilitation programs
● Vaccinators (local health department, school nurse, etc.)
● Testing sites — testers and onsite registration staff members
● Public health — COVID-19 response
● Urgent care providers
● Primary care providers
● Dental practices
● Other health care professionals (outpatient specialties, optometrists, physical therapists, podiatrists, community health workers, in-home nursing staff, etc.)
● Detention centers staff members
● Homeless shelters staff members
● Law enforcement (patrol/public-facing)
● Fire rescue
● 911 dispatchers
● Behavioral health (non-telehealth) — residential/recovery, etc.
● School nurses (non-vaccine/non-testers)
● Lab workers
● Morticians and funeral home employees
● Surgical centers
● Other providers licensed by the Maryland Department of Health
● Adults ages 75 and older
● Public transit workers (transport for senior citizens and people with disabilities)
● Education sector (teachers and support staff)
● Child care workers
● Food and agricultural workers
● Postal Service workers
● Grocery store workers
● People experiencing homelessness
● People in detainee centers
● Manufacturing workers
● Adults ages 65 to 74
Tier 2 — People 16 to 64 years old with high-risk medical conditions, including:
● Chronic Kidney Disease
● Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
● Heart conditions
● Immunocompromised state
● Obesity/severe obesity
● Sickle Cell Disease
● Type 2 Diabetes, Type 1 Diabetes
● Asthma (moderate-severe)
● Cerebrovascular disease
● Cystic fibrosis
● Hypertension or high blood pressure
● Immunocompromised conditions (from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, prolonged use of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive medication)
● Dementia, ALS, other neurologic issues
● Liver disease
● Pulmonary disease
Tier 3 — Essential workers not previously in Phase 1A or 1B, including:
● Transportation and logistics
● Water and wastewater
● Food service
● Shelter and housing (construction, etc.)
● Finance (banks, etc.)
● IT and communications
● Legal (state’s attorney, public defenders, judiciary, etc.)
● Public Safety (engineers, etc.)
● Public health workers — non-COVID-19 response
● Social & Human Services (Aging, DSS, Human Services) — field/in-home services
● Continuity of government (elected officials)
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at email@example.com.