2021 | Coronavirus

What to know about getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Montgomery County

With Johnson & Johnson on hold, vaccinations could take longer

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Bethesda resident Vanessa Fontana Keszler 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

After several weeks of receiving more than 10,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses a week, Montgomery County and the rest of the state will have thousands of doses less to administer after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was halted for a review.

On Tuesday, the county announced that it would pause use of the vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that all medical providers stop administering the one-dose vaccine. The agencies are trying to determine potential links between the vaccine and a few cases of rare blood clots.

Six cases of the rare blood clots were found in women ages 18 to 48. More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered across the nation.

The county received 7,030 Pfizer doses this past week — a decrease from 10,730 doses it received last week.

No J&J doses were shipped to the county at the start of last week. The county has 960 doses of the vaccine from an earlier shipment; they will be stored until there is further guidance.

That decrease in available vaccines means the county can’t offer as many appointments as it could in previous weeks.

The county already expected a decrease in vaccine doses because of a cross-contamination breakdown in which about 15 million doses from two different vaccines were ruined at a manufacturing facility in Baltimore.

Ingredients from the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet approved in the United States, were mistakenly mixed with the J&J vaccine. The mistake was caught and no doses left the facility.

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If I received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, what signs of the rare blood clots should I look for?

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said on Tuesday that residents who received the J&J vaccine should look for several symptoms within three weeks after they received the vaccine.

Those symptoms include: severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.

If any of those symptoms occur, residents should report them to their health provider. Medical providers must report the symptoms to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

As of Thursday afternoon, no reported cases of the rare blood clots were discovered in Montgomery County residents.

“We will continue, as we find out more information, to translate that in ways within which our residents can easily understand and hopefully address the questions that they may have,” Gayles said on Thursday.

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How will the halt on Johnson & Johnson vaccines affect the county’s distribution?

Fewer available vaccines means fewer available appointments.

The county received 7,030 Pfizer doses at the start of last week — a reduction from 10,730 the previous week.

“The longer-term consequences of that is that it extends the timeframe within which we will be able to achieve those higher levels of protection and higher percentage of our residents getting vaccines, which will allow us to feel more comfortable — particularly in the setting of variant strains that have been demonstrated to become the dominant strains of [COVID-19],” Gayles said.

The advantage of the J&J vaccines is that they can be kept in cold storage longer than the other vaccines can.

“Our ability to use those [960] doses will be contingent upon. … getting approval pending the review by [federal agencies], as well as the potential timeframe within which that decision is made,” he said.

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To get a vaccine at Montgomery County’s mass vaccination site, do I preregister with the state or the county?

You can sign up with either preregistration system, but county officials recommend signing up through both the state and the county. The county’s mass vaccination site at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus opened on April 8.

Of the vaccine doses provided to the county’s mass vaccination site in Germantown, 2,100 will be reserved for Montgomery County residents. The rest of the doses will go to a combination of Montgomery County residents and residents from other jurisdictions.

Preregistration does not guarantee you an appointment right away.

County residents and workers also can sign up for appointments through certain hospitals, medical providers, pharmacies, community clinics, and others.

The state and county will continue to prioritize certain groups for vaccine doses.

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Who is being vaccinated?

The state, county and medical providers are vaccinating all residents age 16 and older at mass vaccination sites.

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How many variant cases are there in Montgomery County?

As of Friday, the state has discovered 102 variant cases in county residents – six additional cases since April 8. Variants of COVID-19 have caused the virus to be more transmissible.

Of the 102 cases, 81 were of the B.1.1.7, or UK, variant. Ten cases had the B.1.351, or South African, variant. Of the two California variants, there are 4 cases of B.1.427 and 6 cases of B.1.429. There has been one case of the P.1, or Brazilian, variant.

The state is sequence testing 20% of coronavirus tests for the variants, which means more variant cases might not be caught.

The variant testing is conducted on random cases.

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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.

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What can I expect at the mass vaccination site in Montgomery County? What do I need to bring?

Montgomery County’s new site at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus is by appointment only.

People with appointments are asked to bring a photo ID. If there is a language barrier for the appointee, they can bring someone to translate.

Several staff members on site can speak other languages. If a language barrier cannot be solved on site, county staff members use a language assistance line.

The site is in the college’s biosciences building. Site workers have golf carts to help anyone with mobility problems to get from their car to the building. Wheelchairs are also provided.

People with appointments are guided through the building by signage pointing to the registration area, then to vaccination rooms where staff members divide them based on first or second dose.

People in wheelchairs or with mobility concerns are guided to a separate line that is more direct and has staff members for assistance.

Once a vaccine dose is administered, people are moved to a monitoring room, where they sit for 15 minutes in case of an allergic reaction to a vaccine.

The site will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and will expand to additional days once the supply of vaccine doses increases.

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My spouse got an invitation for a vaccine appointment, but I didn’t. When can I get the vaccine?

Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said on April 7 that the county has generally been offering on-site vaccine registration for spouses if the doses are available that day.

“We try [to] keep families together in terms of vaccination. So we will do that when we find there is a second person who is a spouse or caretaker who fits into the eligibility criteria,” he said. “If we have a vaccine available onsite, we will vaccinate them.”

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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 age 16 and 17 will receive an appointment for a Pfizer vaccine dose.

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

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Where are the rest of the mass vaccination sites in the state?

The sites that are already open:
● Six Flags America in Prince George’s County
● Baltimore Convention Center
● M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore
● Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County
● Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury
● Hagerstown Premium Outlets
● Montgomery College’s campus in Germantown
● Timonium Fairgrounds in Baltimore County
● Greenbelt Metro Station in Prince George’s County (partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency)
● Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Anne Arundel County
● Frederick Community College

The sites that are planned to open:
● Ripken Stadium in Harford County the week of April 19
● Mall in Columbia in Howard County the week of April 26

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Do any of the mass vaccination sites allow walk-in vaccines?

Only three state mass vaccination sites — Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, Hagerstown Premium Outlets and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore — currently allow walk-in vaccinations.

More mass vaccination sites are expected to add no-appointment lines.

Although there will be opportunities to receive vaccines without appointments, the governor has urged residents to schedule appointments instead.

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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.

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Can you choose which vaccine you get?

Residents and workers can’t choose which vaccine is administered, but health officials have assured that all of them are viable and effective. The approved vaccines are from Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.

County officials have said that there will likely be a specific type of vaccine at each county-run clinic. When residents register for an appointment, they will know which type of vaccine they will receive at the clinic.

If they do not want the particular vaccine associated with the appointment, there will be a potential wait for an appointment for a different vaccine.

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How many residents have been vaccinated?

As of Thursday, 458,671 county residents, or 43.6% of the county’s 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 275,701 county residents, or 26.2% of the population, who are fully vaccinated with a second dose or with the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

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If COVID-19 vaccinations are increasing, is it still necessary to get COVID-19 tests?

You should still get a COVID-19 test if you have had any known exposure to anyone who has had symptoms or who has tested positive — or if you have been around a large group of people or have traveled.

County officials have said COVID-19 testing has seen a dip in the last month. But testing helps the county track where and how cases are spreading.

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How do you 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 in eligible phases can preregister with the state and 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 every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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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 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.