As residents flooded into a new COVID-19 vaccination site at Montgomery College in Germantown on Wednesday, the county has opened up preregistration for all residents age 16 and older.
Preregistration allows residents and workers to place their information into the county’s system. It does not guarantee a vaccine dose right away since the county is still only vaccinating eligible people in Phases 1, 2A and 2B. All residents 16 and older will be eligible in Phase 3.
Appointments are sent to residents as doses become available and eligibility opens up. Residents and workers are advised to preregister with both the state and county.
The county-run vaccine site at Montgomery College opened about a week before the site will ramp up as a state mass vaccination site on or around April 8.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said during a media briefing on Wednesday that county and state officials are still “going back and forth about that timeline.”
Stoddard said he was scheduled to meet with state officials on Wednesday to discuss the issue more.
He also said state and local leaders are still negotiating what percentage of appointments at the Montgomery College site will be reserved for county residents.
Most mass vaccination sites reserve about 7% of appointments for their county residents, he said, but Montgomery County plans to reserve about 10%.
Because the county is handling more of the site’s operations, Stoddard said, there should be a higher percentage of appointments kept for local residents — maybe closer to 25%.
“The county … bears a significantly greater portion of the workload than other state sites, therefore it’s being largely subsidized by … taxpayers directly, as well,” Stoddard said. “So we believe from an equity perspective, our residents are bearing a greater burden, and they are, frankly, entitled to a greater portion of vaccine doses than maybe what has been established for the other sites.”
The first day that registration was open for the county site, about 3,000 people preregistered and chose it as their first choice to receive a shot. Another 2,000 listed it as their second choice, according to Stoddard.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, added that county residents could still be picked for appointments that are open to the entire state.
“By having a share earmarked for Montgomery County, it doesn’t mean that whatever percentage that is open to the general public excludes Montgomery County,” he said. “It just also is open to the state.”
County officials pressured the state for weeks to choose a Montgomery County site for mass vaccination. The state focused on the sites it considered to be priorities, opening in Baltimore City and in Prince George’s County, where many Montgomery County residents went.
Now, the state list of mass vaccinations sites has grown to 12, with Montgomery County one of them. Six of those sites, including the county’s, have yet to open.
At the Montgomery College vaccine site on Wednesday, a long line stretched from the side of the building, through the front door and some hallways, then to a door where a staff member directed people into different vaccination rooms.
County and Holy Cross Health staff members were administering more than 500 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and second doses of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday. That split won’t always be the case day to day, as officials hope to also offer the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the site in the future, as well.
Although the site was starting with a smaller number of doses, Sean O’Donnell, a public health emergency manager for the county’s health department, said Wednesday that the site can administer up to 1,500 doses a day. The site will expand to more days and more doses in the future, he said.
The site will ramp up with more doses when the state provides an expected larger shipment of doses next week. Officials said they have not been told how many doses they will receive.
Stoddard has said that the state and county have a goal of administering 3,000 doses a day by April 15.
Montgomery County residents can also get vaccinations through some hospitals, medical providers, pharmacies, and mass vaccination sites in other counties.
The new vaccine site in Germantown is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Vaccine doses are only given to eligible residents and workers with an appointment. It is not a walk-in clinic.
When entering the campus, residents and workers getting vaccinated were guided through the campus by police officers and traffic cones to a parking lot by the college’s biosciences building.
Once inside, people make their way to a registration area, then to a vaccination room to receive their dose. After getting a vaccine dose, residents are seated in a larger room for 15-minute monitoring in case of an allergic reaction.
County Executive Marc Elrich visited the site Wednesday morning and said he was glad to see operations up and running.
Although vaccinations are now expected to significantly increase, Elrich said he is still worried about the potential spread of the coronavirus as businesses continue to open up under Gov. Larry Hogan’s orders.
“We’re in a race. This virus is expanding. Until you get a large portion of the population vaccinated, the vaccines don’t control the spread,” he said.
Manuel Gallardo, a psychologist from Bethesda, said he was the only member of his family who had not been vaccinated yet. He received his first dose at the Montgomery College campus on Wednesday.
Once he received the invitation to sign up for an appointment on Tuesday, he immediately signed up.
“I got the very first time available. … I’m feeling very thankful that I’m [partially] safe,” he said.
Gallardo said that once he is fully vaccinated, he plans to visit his parents in San Francisco.
Ripple Weistling, a Bethesda resident and faculty member of American University, said she also received a first dose of the vaccine.
She was eligible to receive it because of her asthma, but was surprised that her husband was not chosen for an appointment first since he has both asthma and diabetes.
Weistling said she preregistered for a vaccine in early January and was patient since she didn’t want to jump the line. The opening of the mass vaccination operation will hopefully continue to speed up the distribution, she said.
“I think they’re catching up now,” she said. “I think things are moving in the right direction now.”
Vanessa Fontana Keszler of Bethesda was at the site for her first vaccine dose on Wednesday. She was eligible for the vaccination because of her employment at George Washington University.
Fontana Keszler said she and her husband were both eager to receive the vaccine, but she received an appointment link before him.
“My husband is very jealous I’m here getting my vaccine,” she said.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.