BERLIN – A discussion on vaccine distribution efforts highlighted a virtual town hall meeting this week
On Monday, hundreds of community members joined a virtual town hall meeting to learn more about the local vaccine distribution process and participate in a question-and-answer session with health care representatives.
Hosted by Senator Mary Beth Carozza, the forum included panelists from Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset health departments, Atlantic General Hospital and TidalHealth.
“Our health care partners are here today to provide the best information at this time on COVID-19 and the vaccine registration process in Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties,” Carozza said. “You will hear common themes that the vaccine is safe, the process is based on a phased-in approach, and based on current supply.”
Lori Brewster, health officer for Wicomico and Somerset counties, noted vaccine distribution began in her jurisdictions Dec. 22. To date, she said, the health department has received nearly 4,000 calls and 5,000 emails related to vaccine administration. As of last week, the agency had vaccinated nearly 2,700 people in Phase 1A and Phase 1B.
“We don’t have the vaccine that we’d love to have, so that we could complete both Phase 1A and Phase 1B,” she said. “I know that at least for the health departments, we are struggling to meet all our Phase 1B requirements. And I believe the hospitals are as well.”
This week, the state moved to Phase 1C of its distribution plan, making vaccines available to those ages 65-74 and essential workers in lab services, agriculture, manufacturing, postal service, public transit and grocery stores.
However, Worcester County Health Officer Becky Jones said appointments are dependent on the amount of vaccine allocated to each jurisdiction.
In Worcester County, registration for vaccine clinics open on Thursday mornings. But since Maryland entered Phase 1B of its rollout, officials have reported full clinics and waitlists.
“We are all limited by the supply, whether it’s through the local health departments or partners in the acute care setting,” she said. “We are given weekly allocations. We can only give what we have, and our weekly allocations have not been tremendous. So we’ll continue to ask for everyone’s patience as we move through this process.”
Matthew Morris, Atlantic General’s vice president of patient care services, encouraged residents to continue monitoring the state’s vaccination portal, www.MarylandVax.org, for available appointments.
He noted that those on the waitlist would be notified as vaccines become available. And those who receive a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are guaranteed a second dose.
“Registration for the second dose is a lot easier than the first …,” Morris said, adding that registrants will receive an email with instructions. “You aren’t in competition with people who haven’t gotten the vaccine yet.”
Kathryn Fiddler, TidalHealth’s vice president of population health, also highlighted vaccine supply challenges this week. As of Monday, the hospital system had administered more than 7,300 vaccines.
“If there are no appointments, there’s no availability,” she said.
When asked about the Maryland’s process for allocating vaccines, Jones said the state used a formula to distribute doses to each jurisdiction. In Worcester County, for example, the health department received 300 doses this week.
“That’s the bare minimum for jurisdictions,” she said.
Officials were also asked if individuals must be vaccinated in their county of residence. Jones encouraged residents to seek clinics in their home counties.
“If you are living and working in the jurisdiction, there are no barriers to getting the vaccine …,” she said. “They can cross jurisdictions, but I encourage people to look in their jurisdiction first to see if there is availability before going to next jurisdiction.”
Brewster added that individuals must receive both doses from the same jurisdiction.
“You need to go for your second dose where you got your first dose,” she said.
Panelists this week noted there was no charge for COVID-19 vaccinations. They did, however, highlight technological barriers that have made it difficult for people to register for clinics.
“This is going to be a common problem we’ll see as we go through phases,” Morris said, “not only with our elderly, but also with people of poor socioeconomic status, people who don’t have access, people who don’t have WiFi or internet.”
Health department officials and hospital representatives encouraged individuals to seek help from family and friends in finding and registering for clinics online. The local health departments have also established call centers for any additional assistance.
“This is a community effort,” Fiddler said. “So if any one of you have been fortunate enough to get your vaccine, please find a friend and help them do the same. I think what makes us special as a regional area is that we really do take care of each other, and this is the time to do that because there are people who can’t do it on their own for a variety of reasons.”
For more information, or to view the town hall meeting in its entirety, visit any of the agencies’ social media accounts or websites.
Residents needing help with registration can also call the Worcester County Health Department hotline at 667-253-2140 during business hours, or email the Wicomico County Health Department at Wicomico.COVIDvax@maryland.gov.
Click here to view the town hall in its entirety.