2021 | Coronavirus

What to know about COVID-19 vaccine as eligibility expands

Montgomery County received 1,600 Johnson & Johnson doses this week

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Todd Laubach, an emergency room nurse for Adventist HealthCare in Montgomery County, was one of the health care system's first employees to receive the vaccine in late December.

Photo from Adventist HealthCare

Montgomery County COVID-19 vaccine clinics opened eligibility to more residents and workers this week, allowing residents age 65 and older and certain essential workers to sign up for appointments.

But county officials have warned that it will take a long time to get through the next group, which has 150,000 or more people.

The county is already vaccinating health care workers, group homes, assisted living facilities, residents age 75 and older, medical providers, and other essential industries.

The approval last week of a third vaccine — by Johnson & Johnson — will help more people get shots.

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Which priority groups are newly eligible for the vaccine in Phases 1B and 1C?
The county’s Phase 1B is split into priority group tiers.

Tier 2 includes:
● Public transit workers (transport for seniors and persons with disabilities, etc.)
● Education sector (teachers, support staff members, etc.)
● Child care workers
● Food and agricultural workers
● Postal service workers
● Grocery store workers
● Individuals with developmental disabilities
● Individuals experiencing homelessness
● Individuals in detainee centers

Tier 3:
● Manufacturing workers

Phase 1C
Tier 1:
● Adults ages 65 to 74

Every eligible resident or worker in Phases 1B and 1C can preregister for a vaccine through the county. Preregistration places individuals’ information into the county system. Once a vaccine is available for an individual’s group, an appointment link will be provided.

Residents and workers will receive a confirmation email of their preregistration. They will not receive an appointment link until a dose is available for them.

Front-line essential workers will be prioritized based on the exposure risk to individuals with COVID-19, or those who can’t work from home or control social distancing.

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How many people are included in the new groups?
About 90,000 are estimated to be age 65 and older in the county.

Of the qualified essential workers, there are more than 25,000 school employees, 79,000 non-public school staff members, about 15,000 child care workers, around 15,000 emergency food providers, and more than 1,000 transit workers.

The county is still estimating numbers for the essential worker groups, but it expects to be serving the next groups for a while.

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Can you choose which vaccine is administered to you?
Residents and workers are not able to choose which vaccine is administered to them, but health officials have assured that all of them are viable and effective. The approved vaccines are from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said during a media briefing on Wednesday that the county will likely have a specific type of vaccine at each site. 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 them.

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How many doses of the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be available?
Last week, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine for use.

The county received about 1,600 doses this week out of the 49,000 doses sent to Maryland.

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How many vaccine doses are being shipped to the county’s health department?
The county is receiving between 4,500 and 6,500 doses a week.

The state provides the county with four-week projections of vaccine dose allocations.

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How many residents have been vaccinated?

As of Thursday, 165,777 county residents — or 15.8% of the population — have received a first dose of a vaccine. Of those residents, 82,785 — or 7.9% of the population — have been fully vaccinated.

Two of the vaccines require two doses, spaced three to four weeks apart. A new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which came to the county this week, requires only one dose.

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Why does Montgomery County not have a mass vaccination site?
State delegates and county officials have been pushing the Maryland Department of Health to place a mass vaccination site in the county. But state officials have said they won’t consider any other potential locations until the planned six have all been opened.

Sites at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, Baltimore Convention Center, and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore have been open. Another site opened on Thursday at the Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County.

The remaining two sites are Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, opening no later than March 18, and Hagerstown Premium Outlets, opening by March 31.

Gov. Larry Hogan said on Tuesday that the state is in “active discussions” with counties that have asked for a site.

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Where could a mass vaccination site be placed in the county?
Although the state will not consider a site to be placed in the county until later, county officials are preparing a site with the necessary infrastructure to strengthen the case for a location in the county.

The county plans to propose a site at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus. County officials previously mentioned the fairgrounds in Gaithersburg as a possible site, and at least one other unnamed site.

Multiple 10,000-square-foot or larger spaces are available at the college, including a gymnasium and conference space. It has thousands of parking spots.

It is right off I-270 and could be accessible to Frederick County residents. It is also in a ZIP code that is one of the county’s priority ZIP codes with high case rates.

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How can community groups get involved with setting up vaccine events?

Under the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force’s recently announced equity plan, community groups can submit proposals for sponsoring a vaccine site for vulnerable areas hard hit by COVID-19.

The task force will review proposals on several factors, including the ability to address disparities in vaccine distribution, such as the number of residents with an annual income below $49,000, the percentage of minority and unemployed residents, and the number of people age 65 and older.

Support staff members will make recommendations to the task force leadership, which will decide which proposals to submit to the Maryland Department of Health for review and vaccine distribution.

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What is the plan to get vaccines to residents who are homebound?
The county is testing a pilot mobile program to provide vaccinations to older people in their homes. After the pilot is over, the county will scale up the program and find other community partners to join.

The preregistration form for the county clinics allows individuals to indicate whether transportation to a clinic is a restriction for them.

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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 exposures to anyone else 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 said Wednesday that COVID-19 testing has had a dip in the last month. But testing helps the county track where and how cases are spreading.

In the last two weeks, the county has administered an average of about 5,500 tests. The week of Dec. 26, the county administered more than 11,800 tests.

County officials said the issue is being seen across the country. Residents might be focused on vaccinations, and assuming that the decrease in cases is a reason to not worry about getting a test, they said.
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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 Phases 1B and 1C can preregister for the vaccine here.

A Preregistration Helpline for county-run clinics is available for preregistration assistance at 240-777-2982. General vaccine questions can be directed to the county at 240-777-1755.
Staff members are available to 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, here and here.

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