2021 | Coronavirus

What to know about COVID-19 vaccine, Montgomery County’s mass vaccination site

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A vaccinator prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine at a county-run clinic at White Oak Recreation Center in early January. The clinics are by appointment only and do not allow walk-ins.

Photo from Montgomery County

Montgomery County residents are expected to have a new COVID-19 vaccination site to use, at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, within two weeks.

The site will start with a small distribution of about 250 doses a day before scaling up to be a mass vaccination site administering 3,000 doses a day. County officials hope to reach that goal by April 25.

The county announced the mass vaccination site on Tuesday, but later that same day, Gov. Larry Hogan said the news was a “bit premature” and that no decision had been made.

But a county official said the county already has been receiving physical and logistical support from the state. Also, the state showed the county how to use the state’s mass vaccination scheduling system.

Even if the state does not end up providing the necessary doses for the Germantown campus to become a mass vaccination site, the county will run it as a vaccination site regardless, county officials said Wednesday.

The college campus won’t be the only new vaccine location. Two county-run clinics at Richard Montgomery and Quince Orchard highs schools will also need to be replaced by April 1, when Montgomery County Public Schools needs the space back for students.

Replacement clinics sites are being considered. The county also operates a smaller clinic at White Oak Recreation Center.

Below are key details about getting a vaccination in Montgomery County and other information related to COVID-19.

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If the governor says no decision has been made, will there be a state mass vaccination site at Montgomery College?

It’s difficult to say for sure until Hogan announces the commitment. He told reporters on Tuesday that the state is speaking with four or five counties about the possibility of setting up mass vaccination sites, but there might be an announcement next week.
Hogan has said details on the availability of vaccine doses, which the state gets from the federal government, still need to be figured out.

County officials, on the other hand, have been adamant that they are continuing to receive indications that the plans are moving forward, including several meetings to discuss state processes and an offer to help procure laptops and plan the site infrastructure.

Either way, a vaccine clinic will be opened at the college campus in Germantown, regardless of whether the state provides additional vaccines for the site or its solely by the county.

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Why would the county’s mass vaccination site be a partnership between the county and state? Why will it not be state-run like the other sites?

According to Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the state was specifically interested in pursuing a partnership instead of completely operating the site.

The partnership would be among the state, county, Holy Cross Health and Montgomery College.

“It’s going to happen,” he said during a briefing on Wednesday. “It’s just a matter of how the state views the partnership. In the immediate term, we, as the county, will be moving operations to that site over the coming weeks.”

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

The state operates mass vaccination sites at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, Baltimore Convention Center, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, and Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County.

An additional site opened at Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury on Thursday. Another site will open at Hagerstown Premium Outlets on March 25.

You can preregister for an appointment at a state mass vaccination site here or call 1-855-634-6829.

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Can you be vaccinated by other county health departments if you do not live or work in that county?

Officials have strongly recommended and advised that residents and workers be vaccinated in the county in which they live or work.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer, said county residents will be prioritized, but no one would be turned away if they were eligible and had an appointment.

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Will the County Council lift restrictions on sports?

The County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, is scheduled to consider lifting some restrictions on youth sports on Friday.

A public hearing and vote are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday. The deadline to sign up to speak at the public hearing is Friday at 10:30 a.m.

The council approved a rule last Friday that limited attendance for sports to a maximum of 50 people for outdoor sports and a maximum of 25 people for indoor sports, except for ice hockey. Ice hockey was limited to a 10% maximum occupancy for ice rink facilities.

A waiver for those limits for an event could be approved in advance.

Low-risk and medium-risk sports were allowed to have practices, scrimmages, games, matches and competitions. But high-risk sports — such as football, basketball and cheerleading — were limited to no-contact skills-building and drills.

The council will consider lifting some restrictions on certain sports, while also keeping players safe by requiring mask wearing, testing protocols, contact tracing, and other measures.

Gayles has voiced his concern for easing restrictions on youth sports because of the possible spread of COVID-19 among sports teams and within schools.

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Who is currently being vaccinated in the county?

Hospitals, medical providers and certain retail pharmacies are vaccinating residents and workers in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C, according to state guidelines. The state’s phases can be found here.

Montgomery County-run clinics are administering vaccines to residents and workers in Phases 1A and 1B, as well as adults age 65 to 74 in Phase 1C.

Among those currently eligible are health care workers, medical providers, adults age 65 or older, and certain essential workers. A list of the county’s phases can be found here.

Individuals in the rest of the county’s Phase 1C can preregister for the vaccine, which places their information into the county’s system. An invitation to schedule an appointment will be sent to individuals once they are eligible and a vaccine dose is available to them.

A tool to find a vaccination site near you can be found here.

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Why do the state and county have some different eligibility criteria for the vaccine phases?

There are some differences in the eligibility between the state and county’s vaccination phases, such as certain medical conditions that qualify you for the vaccine.

According to Gayles, a prioritization framework was collectively created by health officers from the state’s counties. The framework was submitted to the state for consideration.

“We have not aligned with the state exactly to make sure we prioritized those most vulnerable as an option,” he said on March 11. “We take our role as a safety net and protector of those most vulnerable seriously.”

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Can you choose which vaccine is administered to you?

Residents and workers can’t 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.

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 Wednesday, 240,417 county residents, or 22.9% 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 124,431 residents, or 11.8% 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 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 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.

Across two weeks in late February and early March, the county administered an average of about 5,500 tests. By comparison, the week of Dec. 26, the county administered more than 11,800 tests.

County officials said decreases in testing are being seen across the country

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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:
March 11 Q&A
March 5 Q&A
February 24 Q&A
February 17 Q&A
January 19 Q&A
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.