The high stakes coordination of COVID-19 vaccine distribution is getting fully underway.
“To date our Health Department has received 4,500 doses of vaccine and has administered more than 2,600 of those doses,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball at a Jan. 7 press conference. “By Tuesday (Jan. 12), 100 percent of our current allocation will be administered.”
The county executive presented the roll out plan with caution, “We are not out of the woods,” he said.
Noting that there is “light at the end of the tunnel,” he said that unity, education understanding and patience will be needed as the county works toward full vaccination.
Howard County residents can track vaccine progress online via the county’s COVID-19 dashboard at StayCOVIDSafe.howardcountymd.gov.
“There are approximately 5,000 to 7,000 people in Howard County’s Phase 1A group,” Ball said, which includes frontline healthcare workers and first responders. The county expects to complete Phase 1 vaccinations by the end of January.
“The state receives allocations from the federal government each week, then allocates that vaccine to each jurisdiction based on a variety of factors, including how quickly and efficiently jurisdictions are able to administer their doses,” Ball said.
According to Maryland Department of Health statistics, as of Jan. 5, Howard County was among five counties to have completed 80 percent or more of its Phase 1 vaccinations.
“We are vaccinating nearly 600 people every day at our Ascend One location,” said Maura Rossman, Howard County’s Health Officer. “Our ability to continue this pace relies on the amount of vaccine, and we hope to receive weekly increasing amounts from the state.”
Plans are also underway to expand clinic hours and locations, with the goal of operating clinics seven days per week, she said.
Anne Arundel County, however, had completed less than 20 percent.
As of Jan. 7, “1,016 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health to date,” said Elin Jones, a spokesperson for the county’s Health Department. “The majority of these vaccinations have been to health care workers.”
Use it or lose it
Phase 1B, which includes educators, teachers, child care professionals and individuals in group living arrangements, comprises 30,000 to 40,000 individuals, and vaccination of this group could be completed by March at present levels, Ball said.
An additional 35,000 to 45,000 people fall under Phase 1C, which includes adults aged 65 to 74 and critical business sectors, while adults aged 16 to 64 fall under Phase 2.
“Folks want to know exactly when they can expect to receive the vaccine,” Ball said. “While they’re still ramping up production at the federal level, there isn’t a clear answer and we do not want to convey a false sense of hope. As soon as we have a clear projection, we will share that information. To date there has been little lead time on when we will receive more vaccine doses and how many to expect, but we fully believe … that will improve.”
Production limitations, distribution factors and personnel levels are contributing to a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine but state and local officials say the process and availability should improve in the coming weeks.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said 270,150 doses were distributed directly into the hands of frontline vaccinators at hospitals, nursing homes and local health departments over the last three weeks.
Of the initial allotment Maryland received, “only 1.3 percent, or 3,727 doses, have been retained by the Health Department for emergency backup reserve purposes,” he said.
“Some of our hospitals are doing extremely well, already using as much as 67 percent of their total allocations, while others are still just ramping up,” he said. “The slowest hospital in the state has completed only 16 percent of its allocation.”
Health departments throughout the state have received 35,200 doses to begin vaccination clinics for vaccinators, EMTs and first line responders.
On Jan 5, Hogan announced additional steps aimed at improving the efficiency of distributing the vaccine, to include the dispatch of emergency vaccination support teams to assist local health departments with expanding their vaccination capacity.
“Each team will include 14 National Guard members who will assist with administering vaccines and will also be able to provide logistical support for vaccination clinics,” Hogan said.
Additionally, the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps has identified 700 qualified individuals ready and willing to assist local health department clinics.
“Any facility which has not administered at least 75 percent of their first dose allocation may have future allocations reduced until they prove their ability to meet capacity requirements,” Hogan said, while providers with excess doses will be required to notify local health departments so those doses can be reallocated to priority populations.
“Effective immediately we will be adopting a rolling allocation model,” he added. “No doses should be sitting in freezers unused, waiting or backing up before we move on to begin the next group in line. Either use the doses or they will be redirected to another provider where they will be used immediately.”
To view Ball’s Jan. 7 press conference, visit https://bit.ly/2L3wqvj.
By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly