Montgomery County’s COVID-19 vaccination partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine will expand this week to include private school staff members.
After receiving 8,775 vaccine doses from the state on Jan. 23, Johns Hopkins teamed with the county to distribute those doses. They went to county residents older than age 65 who have received care from Johns Hopkins in the past two years, as well as Montgomery County Public Schools employees.
The partnership was part of an effort to help prepare for the reopening of public schools, according to a press release from the county at the time.
The announcement was celebrated by MCPS staff members, but criticized by many private school communities.
Many private schools across the county have offered at least some in-person classes through the fall, meaning their employees have been in buildings and interacting with students face-to-face. Some argued that they should be prioritized above public school staff, who have taught remotely since March.
In an interview on Monday morning, Montgomery County Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Dr. Earl Stoddard said the distribution of this week’s 2,425 doses will include private school staff members.
He said private schools were not initially included because Johns Hopkins had to react quickly to distribute the vaccines, and MCPS already had a database of eligible employees.
Gathering the same information from the roughly 200 private schools in the county would have taken too much time for the first week because there is no central contact for all of the schools.
If hospitals do not administer 75% of the doses they receive from the state each week, their allotments will be cut the next week, Stoddard said.
“Hopkins’ preference to focus initially on MCPS was entirely just logistic because they could work with (the district) and get a list from MCPS uploaded into their system by Sunday morning, and be ready to vaccinate by Tuesday,” Stoddard said.
This week’s doses will be split evenly between residents older than 65 and school employees.
So, about 1,212 doses will go to the older population. The remaining 1,212 will be split 50/50 between private and public school staff members, Stoddard said. That means about 606 doses will be available for each group.
From the lists of eligible educators provided to Johns Hopkins by MCPS and private schools, the people who receive vaccines are chosen by lottery — or at random.
Stoddard said that as of Monday, about 3,000 vaccination appointments for MCPS employees had been scheduled since the partnership with Johns Hopkins began.
State health officials on Saturday sent a letter to county health departments telling them that “it is the health policy of the State of Maryland that non-public schools may not be excluded from any COVID-19 vaccine provider who is administering COVID-19 vaccine to educators.”
“Any COVID-19 vaccine provider who refuses the vaccination of nonpublic school staff while administering vaccines to public school system employees will have future vaccine allocations reduced or reallocated to providers that comply with the MDH Vaccination Matters Order and COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Bulletins,” the letter said.
Montgomery County has not yet entered the phase of its vaccination plan that includes educators. The county is still vaccinating people 75 and older, and any health care workers who have not received their doses yet. The county expects to take “a few weeks” before more widespread vaccination of educators can begin, Stoddard said on Monday.
But Safeway will soon begin administering vaccines, and the company has told the county it is interested in prioritizing educators, as well, Stoddard said.
County officials will meet with company representatives this week, he said, but more information was not available Monday.
As he and other county officials have done repeatedly in recent weeks, Stoddard reiterated that he understands everyone “has a reasonable case for prioritization” to receive a vaccine, but the county is working with a limited supply of vaccines.
“There’s just too little vaccine for too many people in these priority groups, and so we have to choose between, ‘Are we going to vaccinate at Leisure World this week, or are we going to vaccinate school teachers,’ and they’re both very good reasonable cases to make,” Stoddard said. “We’re trying to be reasonable, and we’re trying to distribute as much as we can, hitting a few here and a few here and there, but it’s just there’s not enough to get to everyone as quickly as we’d like to.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org