2021 | Coronavirus

What to know about COVID-19 vaccinations in Montgomery County

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A Montgomery County vaccinator prepares a COVID-19 vaccine syringe at the county clinic on Montgomery College's Germantown campus on March 31, 2021.

File photo

As more Montgomery County residents are vaccinated, the pace of new people seeking a vaccine is starting to slow, officials said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said the eligible younger age groups of residents have had slower progress in vaccinations.

In particular, vaccinations have tapered off in residents in their early 20s to late 30s.

Gayles said that COVID-19 severe illnesses and deaths have been more likely in older populations, which could account for why younger people have felt less urgency in getting a vaccine.

This might give younger populations a sense of “invincibility,” he said.

“Unfortunately, that is not the case because we have seen younger folks have complicated illnesses and unfortunately, pass away as well,” he said.

Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials are trying to make vaccines more available and convenient, including by increasing clinic hours and locations.

The slowdown in vaccinations isn’t hesitancy, he said, but rather, the loss of urgency. The promise of further reopening should be an incentive to get vaccinated, he said.

“The vaccine is our pathway to getting there,” he said. “We need to convince people, ‘Hey, you want to go back to these things that we all love to do? We need to get vaccinated.’”

Does the county track vaccinations for residents who inoculated elsewhere?

County officials have been keeping track of vaccinations through Maryland Department of Health data. That data does not account for residents vaccinated outside the state, such as in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

County Executive Marc Elrich said in a media briefing on Wednesday that the county will switching its vaccine data dashboard to use numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead.

The CDC tracks county residents who have been vaccinated outside Maryland.

“The CDC numbers catch all Montgomery County residents wherever they get vaccinated,’ he said. “If you got vaccinated on your job or with your job in D.C., or Virginia, or any other place, we don’t capture that data in the state system. The CDC gives us a more complete picture in terms of total numbers of people vaccinated.

“The state system gives us a better number in terms of the breakdown of the population that’s vaccinated. So we’ll be combining the CDC numbers, along with the numbers that we have so we have a more accurate and complete picture.”

The data that includes residents who were vaccinated outside of Maryland will give the county a “jump of a few percent,” according to Elrich.

How many Montgomery County residents have been vaccinated in Maryland?

As of Thursday, 575,067 county residents, or 54.7% of its population, have received a first dose of a two-dose vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna. The two-dose vaccines are administered three to four weeks apart.

There are 417,002 county residents, or 39.7% of the population, who are fully vaccinated with a second dose or with the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

Those figures only account for Montgomery County residents vaccinated in Maryland.

The county bases its figures on the total county population, which includes minors under age 16 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine.

What is currently allowed in the first phase of the reopening plan?

Because 50% of the county’s population has had a first dose, the first phase of a new reopening plan allows these changes:
● Gathering limits increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors (previously 25 indoors and 50 outdoors)
● Businesses limited to 25% capacity move to 50% capacity and can sell concessions with social distancing
● Camps can move to the gathering limits of 50 indoors and 100 outdoors (previously 25 indoors and 50 outdoors)
● Escape rooms — in which groups try to solve clues to earn their way out of an enclosed area — can allow 10 people per game (previously 6 people per private game)
● Museums and galleries can reopen touch exhibits
● Malls can reopen pedestrian concourses and return tables and chairs inside
● Sports can move to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, with a similar number of spectators (previously 25 indoors and 50 outdoors)

The second phase, lifting more restrictions, will begin when 60% of the county’s population has had a first dose.

The third phase will be reached once 50% of the population has been fully vaccinated with a second dose or a one-dose vaccine. Under the last phase, the county will no longer have local restrictions and will instead follow any state or Maryland Department of Health requirements in place at the time.

Gov. Larry Hogan has said he would like to see the state fully open by Memorial Day. Will Montgomery County be open at that point?

Elrich said that depends on the numbers.

“We’ll see where we are on Memorial Day. … Fundamentally, it bothers me when people set dates that you cannot relate to the science of what you’re trying to deal with,” he said at a briefing on Wednesday.

The state doesn’t know the vaccine dose supply it will receive from the federal government in the future, and officials don’t know how many more residents will sign up to receive one.

“I wish people would just be patient,” Elrich said. “At this point, after doing this for 15 months, it makes little difference if it’s May 30 or July 4. The main thing is to get this over and done with and make sure that when we go back, everybody can be healthy and safe.”

When will 12- to 15-year-old children be eligible for a vaccine?

Gayles said Wednesday that federal officials expect to hold a hearing within the next week on Pfizer’s request to allow children ages 12 to 15 to receive the vaccine.

“We are preparing in the background to develop strategies to be able to make sure that all of our residents who fit that age group are eligible and able to get their vaccines,” he said.

Although minors need to have a signed consent form to receive a vaccine, parents do not have to be present at the appointment if the form is signed by a parent and shown by the minor.

What concerns remain for taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused on April 13 while federal agencies reviewed a potential link to 15 cases of rare blood clots — thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. None has been in Montgomery County.

The one-dose vaccine was cleared for use again two weeks ago. More than 8 million J&J doses were administered across the country before the pause.

When the county temporarily stopped using the J&J doses, officials stored 1,300 doses of the vaccine for the mass vaccination site and about 284 doses for county clinics. Officials have already started using the vaccine again.

According to the CDC, women younger than 50 years old “should be aware of the rare but increased risk” of the blood clots that the reports have suggested follow use of the J&J vaccine.

People who receive the J&J vaccine should watch for symptoms of a blood clot over the three weeks following inoculation.

Those symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision, and easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the injection site.

Anyone who developed one or more of those symptoms within the three-week timeframe should immediately seek medical care, according to the CDC.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, has advised that anyone with concerns about the vaccine should consult with their medical provider.

If people still have concerns about the vaccine after seeking advice from their medical providers, they can stick with either of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, he has said.

Do I need consent from a parent or guardian to receive a vaccine if I am younger than 18?

Yes, you will need consent from a parent or guardian if you are 16 or 17.

How should children ages 16 and 17 sign up, since they can only receive the Pfizer vaccine?

When the county’s preregistration site pulls names for appointments each week, staff members check the list to ensure that residents ages 16 and 17 will receive an appointment for a Pfizer vaccine dose.

Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for people under age 18.

If I am homebound, how can I get a vaccine?

When residents preregister through the county’s system, they can indicate whether they are homebound.
The county is working with a clinical partner to administer homebound vaccinations.

How do I get to the county’s mass vaccination site if I don’t have a car?

A free Ride On Vaccination Shuttle is being offered for transportation between the Shady Grove Metro Station and the mass vaccination site at Montgomery College in Germantown.

The vaccination shuttle runs every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. At the Metro station, the shuttle will be at Bus Bay H.

Ride On bus Route 55 goes to the college on its run between Rockville Metro Station and Germantown Transit Center.

I’ve already been vaccinated. Can I cancel my preregistration with the county health department?

Yes. If you have already been vaccinated elsewhere, you can cancel your preregistration for a county-run clinic here. Completing the form will take you off the list.

How do I find more information?

More information can be found through these resources:
● Montgomery County vaccine website: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/vaccine
● Maryland vaccine website: https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine
● Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html

Residents and workers 16 and older can preregister with the county.

A Preregistration Helpline for county-run clinics is available at 240-777-2982. General vaccine questions can be directed to the county at 240-777-1755.

Staff members are available for callers in English and Spanish. The call center is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Have a question that wasn’t answered here?

Email your question to briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com and include “COVID Q&A” in the subject line. We will try to answer it.

Our past vaccine Q&As are available here:
April 30
April 23
April 16
April 9
April 2
March 26
March 18
March 11
March 5
February 24
February 17
January 19

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.