POCOMOKE – Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine remains high but local officials say they’re doing the best they can with what they’re getting from the state.
On Friday, the Worcester County Health Department hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Elks Lodge in Pocomoke with the assistance of the Maryland National Guard. While officials there praised the health department’s efforts, they said Worcester County should be getting more vaccines.
“It concerns me,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “More needs to be done to ensure counties like us get the doses we need.”
More than 100 people received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine at Friday’s clinic, which the Elks provided space to the county for at no charge. Attendees checked in, received their shot and then were directed to a seating area to wait for the recommended 15 minutes before departing. Members of the Maryland National Guard were present to assist in the clinic’s organization and traffic flow.
“We’re showing the community we’re here to support them,” said Jarvis Fosque of the Maryland National Guard’s 1229th Transportation Company.
Throughout the pandemic, Fosque’s company has assisted in various ways, delivering critical items such as food, PPE and medical equipment where needed. Fosque said he was happy to help out with a vaccine clinic.
“This is hope,” he said. “We’re fighting to get everything back to how it used to be.”
Bertino praised the National Guard, the health department and the Elks Lodge for the smooth operation of Friday’s clinic. He said that as of Friday, Worcester County topped the state in terms of the percentage of its population that had received the first dose of the vaccine.
“It just goes to show the value of living in Worcester County,” he said.
While the county needs more doses to continue serving its population, Bertino said that was up to the state and federal government. Travis Brown, public affairs officer for the Worcester County Health Department, said that clinics were filling up as soon as they were posted online. He added that the health department couldn’t even advertise any clinics for the first week of February because it only received 300 first doses of the vaccine and they were going to people in assisted living and those who’d been on wait lists.
“Each week it’s different,” he said. “The state does have a formula. We make a request for how much we think we’re going to need and then they give us a percentage of that. It is tough because people really want it.”
Health officials have been surprised by the volume of people interested in getting vaccinated.
“We thought initially the push was going to be to have to convince people to get the vaccine and that’s not it at all,” Brown said. “People who are eligible for it are really really trying to get it. It’s definitely frustrating when those spots aren’t available.”
He encouraged those interested in getting the vaccine to continue checking MarylandVax.org frequently. He added that Walmart, Rite Aid and Safeway locations were expected to have the vaccine in February.
“We are suggesting that people who aren’t able to get it immediately through us call these places,” he said. “If they don’t have it yet they might know when they’re getting it. There are going to be a lot of different outlets but everyone is pulling from the same limited supply.”
Information regarding COVID-19 and the vaccination process is available on the health department’s website and social media pages. The department is also hosting virtual town hall meetings for large groups seeking information.
“We’re getting an average of 1,100 calls per day,” Brown said. “With call times ranging from three minutes to 20 minutes, it’s difficult to talk to each person. We’re trying to connect to as many as possible but please do check our Facebook, and our website, to see if any of those questions have been answered.”
He acknowledged that the online clinic registration system could be frustrating for those trying to sign up online.
“Each clinic has a certain number of slots that we’re able to post based on the amount of vaccine we receive,” he said. “And the waiting list, those are each tied to the clinic. That we know has not always been the best or the most accessible system for people because they’re kind of looking for universal wait list which is something we have been discussing internally… But we are looking at things we can do locally to improve that process.”
As of Monday, Maryland providers had administered 544,369 COVID-19 vaccines, and 78% of all first doses had been given, according to a release from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office. The average daily rate for shots administered is 24,490—a 70% increase over the last two weeks.
“In accordance with federal guidelines, Maryland is currently in Phase 1C of the vaccine distribution plan, including critical workers in high-risk settings and residents 65 and over,” the release. “While federal guidelines make 2 million Marylanders eligible, the state is only receiving 10,000 doses per day. Demand continues to far exceed supply.”