The number of places ready to give out COVID-19 vaccines within Montgomery County, Maryland, is growing, and while some spots may have different rules for who can get a shot, they all share the common challenge of limited and uncertain supplies of doses.
Whether someone is able to receive the vaccine beginning at 65 or 75 years old depends on who is giving out the shots.
People age 75 and older now are able to begin registering for vaccine appointments from Montgomery County Health Department clinics, and the county is beginning to send links to make appointments to seniors who’ve preregistered.
But people age 65 and older may be able to sign up for appointments at other clinics within the county that are made possible through state health department partnerships.
In Montgomery County, four Giant pharmacies are now allowing people to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines. There are other Giant locations across the state offering vaccine appointments. In addition, locations may soon open up at Safeway, Rite Aid and CVS.
However, those arrangements made through the Maryland Department of Health use different criteria and a different sign-up system, according to a Monday briefing that included County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles and County Council President Tom Hucker.
For example, even though the Montgomery County Health Department hasn’t started providing registrations for residents age 65-74 yet, Giant said its vaccination appointments are open to anyone eligible for shots age 65 and older.
However, just as with the county’s clinics, there appears to be high demand for the vaccines through Giant pharmacies.
On the Giant Pharmacy COVID-19 vaccine page, the link to the scheduling portal takes visitors to a landing page. Shortly after 2 p.m. Monday, there were more than 13,000 people waiting in the digital line, and the time to reach the actual scheduling page was running several hours. Then, as of 7:20 p.m., a message on the site said it was down for maintenance.
You can see the full list of Giant locations offering vaccine appointments on the Maryland state coronavirus website. Some Walmart stores in Maryland are also offering vaccine appointments, although none in Montgomery County yet, according to the state’s list.
Among hospitals in the county currently offering vaccine appointments, the Holy Cross Hospital COVID-19 vaccination page indicates clinics include a limited number of appointment slots for community members in Groups 1a and 1b, which include health care workers and people 75 and older. Vaccine appointments in Phase 1c — those 65 and older — will come in the future “depending on the availability of vaccines and progress vaccinating higher priority groups.”
The Adventist Healthcare website says the hospital is also limiting appointments to health care workers and those 75 and older, and even those appointments are full as of Monday evening. People can sign up to be alerted when appointments become available.
Gayles said the county is exploring ongoing partnerships for vaccine distribution in addition to those already in the works.
But he described the amount of COVID-19 vaccines being made available as woefully inadequate and unpredictable. For example, Gayles said he only learned at 7:30 p.m. Saturday the number of doses the county is expected to receive on Tuesday.
Both Gayles and Hucker expressed frustration with poor communication and lack of information from the Maryland Health Department and disproportionate allocations of vaccine from the state going to smaller versus larger counties.
“Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s all have between 1.7 and 2.6 doses per 100 population,” Hucker said. Kent County is getting 8.2 doses per 100 and Somerset County 7.4, according to Hucker.
“That doesn’t make any sense. Obviously, it’s inequitable,” he said.
Shortly after the briefing, an exchange of tweets between Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan reflected efforts to improve communication and cooperation between the county and state.
“The governor had a positive and productive discussion this afternoon with Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. They agreed on ways to coordinate more closely on vaccine distribution,” Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said in a tweet.
Elrich replied: “Thank you, Mike. Had a really positive conversation on how to more effectively coordinate … We both want people vaccinated and are in sync on how we get there. Just need an increase in supply which neither of us can control — but we’re ready to do more when it arrives.”
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