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What to know about COVID-19 vaccine as eligibility opens to residents age 16 and older

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Silver Spring resident Tasha Harris receives her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccine site on Montgomery College's Germantown campus on March 31, 2021.

Photo by Briana Adhikusuma

This story was updated at 12:09 p.m. on April 9, 2021, to include additional details on variant cases.

Every Maryland resident age 16 and older is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine at state mass vaccination sites. Starting on Monday, all vaccine providers will be required to offer the vaccine to the same age group.

But residents shouldn’t expect that being eligible for a vaccine will mean getting an appointment right away. Eligible residents in Phases 1 and 2 are still being prioritized for vaccine appointments at state and county sites.

The number of vaccine appointments offered each week at sites also depends on the number of doses that the state provides to Montgomery County. The state relies on the federal government for its supply.

Gov. Larry Hogan has said the federal government has promised a “significant” increase in dose shipments, but the state has yet to see that impact.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said during a media briefing on Thursday that the state informed the county that there would be a decreased shipment of doses next week.

The state expects to have a decreased shipment from the federal government of about 33%, Gayles said, but the county does not yet know how the local shipment will be affected.

Part of that delay could be due to the cross-contamination of about 15 million doses from two different vaccines at a manufacturing facility in Baltimore, Gayles said.

Ingredients from the AstraZeneca vaccine were mistakenly mixed with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The mistake was caught and no vaccines left the facility.

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If I want 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 Thursday.

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.

You can preregister with the state here and preregister with the county here. 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 vaccine doses by priority groups.

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Who is being vaccinated?

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

Starting on Monday, all vaccine providers will be required to offer vaccines to residents age 16 and older. If they have not opened eligibility already, providers are vaccinating residents and workers in Phases 1 and 2.

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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 a person with them for translation.

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 county and state have a shared goal of increasing doses at the site to 3,000 by April 15.

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 am I able to get the vaccine?

Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said in an interview on Wednesday 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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How many variant cases are there in Montgomery County?

As of Thursday, the state has discovered 96 variant cases in county residents. Variants of COVID-19 have caused the virus to be more transmissible.

Of the 96 cases, 78 were of the B.1.1.7, or UK, variant. Eight cases had the B.1.351, or South African, variant. Of the two California variants, there are 4 cases of B.1.427 and 5 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, Gayles said at a media briefing on Thursday.

“Not every sample is getting tested,” he said. “So the numbers that we see of actual confirmed cases are likely to be artificially low because every positive case does not actually get tested [for variants].”

The variant testing is conducted on random cases.

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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 on April 7 (partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency)

The sites that are planned to open:
● Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Anne Arundel County by April 12
● Frederick Community College by April 12
● 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 two state mass vaccination sites, Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury and Hagerstown Premium Outlets, currently allow walk-in vaccines.

A no-appointment line will also be added to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore next week. More mass vaccination sites are expected to add no-appointment lines in the future.

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

“We still recommend that the best way to ensure you get a vaccine at any of our sites is to preregister and schedule an appointment,” he said at a press conference on April 1.

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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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Are more restrictions expected to be lifted?

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council will consider restrictions to allow summer camps to operate.

Among the potential restrictions for the camps:
● Only Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., residents can attend the local camps
● Camps must separate participants into groups of 25 for indoor activities and 50 for outdoor activities
● Members from a group would not be permitted to mix with members of a different group at the camp
● Each camp would be required to have a COVID Protocol Plan approved by Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, or his designee
● The plan would be required to include strategies for social distancing and infection-control strategies
● A participant who tests positive or who is in close contact with someone who has tested positive would be sent home or remain in quarantine
● Sports activities would be required to follow the rules for youth sports
● Additional requirements for a residential camp would include a cap of 25 persons in a sleeping area with social distancing and infection-control strategies
● Members of each sleeping group must stay within their group for the entire camp session

A public hearing and vote are scheduled for 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday. The deadline to sign up to testify at the hearing is at 5 p.m. on Monday.

The Maryland Department of Health is also working with local jurisdictions on plans to reopen senior centers by the end of April.

Before those reopenings, closed-pod vaccination clinics will be set up at senior centers.

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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, 398,686 county residents, or 37.9% 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 226,158 residents, or 21.5% 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 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.