Frederick County’s elected and health officials expect the supply of COVID-19 vaccine to remain roughly the same for the foreseeable future, inhibiting how quickly they can get people inoculated against the potentially deadly disease.
“There’s just no information to say it will increase in the near future,” Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county health officer, said Thursday following a public information briefing at Winchester Hall. “Now is that two or three weeks? I don’t know. Is it three months? I don’t know.”
The limited supply continues to be the primary obstacle to getting people vaccinated as quickly as possible against COVID-19, which has now claimed 221 lives in the county, including three more in the past 24 hours.
The Frederick County Health Department requested 7,200 doses of vaccine this week and received 1,900 from the federal government, according to County Executive Jan Gardner. That falls in line with what the health department has been receiving per week since two-dose vaccines from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in mid-December.
“Supply has not caught up with demand and is nowhere near meeting the number of people who are eligible to receive it and want to receive it,” Gardner said.
On Monday, at the direction of Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland moved into Phase 1B of its vaccine rollout, which expands eligibility to people 75 and older, those living in assisted living, group homes and other congregate settings, K-12 teachers, support staff and childcare providers.
Brookmyer indicated this accelerated rollout caught the county health department by surprise, as it anticipated a more limited expansion to those in assisted living and other congregate settings.
This coming Monday, the state is set to move into Phase 1C of the rollout, which will allow anyone 65-74 to get the vaccine, as well as essential workers at grocery stores and public transit and manufacturing companies. That represents more than 40,000 additional people, Gardner said.
“I appreciate [the limited vaccine supply] may frustrate people in some other groups that are eligible,” she said. “Certainly, there are other people who make a good argument for why they should be vaccinated, including those that have high-risk health conditions or are in front-line jobs.”
For now, through scheduled appointments, the county health department plans to vaccinate anyone in Phase 1A — first responders and licensed health-care providers — and anyone in 1B that is 75 or older until supply allows them to expand beyond that.
Gardner said it could take “many weeks” to vaccinate everyone who is 75 and older if supply doesn’t ramp up under the new Biden administration.
“I have people saying, ‘Why don’t you open up more distribution sites?’ Well, if I don’t have vaccine for those distribution sites, that certainly doesn’t make sense,” she said.
So far, through the health department, Frederick Health Hospital and a federal contract that allows CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccine in nursing homes, Frederick County has administered 12,150 first doses of the vaccine and 1,226 second doses.
This was reported as the health department reported 119 new COVID-19 infections in the county, bringing the overall number of confirmed cases to 14,693, and hospitalizations due to coronavirus remained near record highs.
As of Thursday, Gardner said 84 percent of all vaccine doses the county has received will have been administered, and by the end of the week, 100 percent will be scheduled to be administered.
She said she speaks with the governor’s office and other county executives about the supply concerns, and there are no clear answers as to why it is so limited. Everyone is dealing with the same issues. She said Frederick County is not unique in that regard.
The state has said it receives about 72,000 doses of vaccine per week from the federal government.
“There may be a manufacturing capacity issue. Maybe we’ll find out what it is and what the plan is to ramp that up,” Gardner said. “We just don’t know that. We have no information.”
She continued, “Even that would help us do planning. If we knew three weeks out that we were going to have twice as much [vaccine], we could schedule opening the third or fourth [vaccination] site.”
Right now, the county health department operates two vaccine clinics for COVID-19.
By focusing on vaccinating those 75 and older with the limited supply on hand, Gardner hopes to be able to bring down the number of deaths sometime soon.
She said that 90 percent of the coronavirus deaths in Frederick County have been people older than 65.
“Distributing the vaccine is Job One right now,” Gardner said. “This is what we are striving to do. It is our highest priority, and the limitation is the availability of the vaccine.”