(Feb. 26, 2021) With vaccine appointments remaining difficult, and even impossible, to obtain, residents been complaining to local healthcare providers that Worcester County is being shortchanged in the vaccine distribution process.
“We have heard concerns from residents — in the form of calls, emails and social media messages — that the supply of vaccine we are receiving in Worcester County is not enough to meet the need. We’ve asked the state to reconsider how many doses they provide each week,” said Travis Brown the public affairs officer for the Worcester County Health Department.
The question, however, is whether Worcester is receiving the same percentage of doses in proportion to its population as other jurisdictions in the state.
As of Thursday, the Worcester County Health Department has received 3,800 first doses and administered 3,179 of them.
Atlantic General Hospital has also been receiving comments of concern from the community regarding the limited supply of vaccine.
“The frustration about supply is understandable, with the fear of getting sick keeping pace with the weariness we all feel of the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of covid-19,” said Sarah Yonker, director of marketing for the hospital. “We continue to stress that we’re working with the state and our local health departments to vaccinate the community as quickly as possible, and we’re providing as much guidance as possible to help individuals through a registration process on marylandvax.org that can be challenging for older residents.
So far, Atlantic General Hospital has received 7,240 doses of the vaccine, Yonker said.
Community members in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C have received about 5,052 of those doses as of Wednesday. The hospital has 319 staff members who have completed Pfizer and 329 who have completed Moderna. Additionally, 16 more employees have received their first dose of Pfizer.
It appears Worcester County is receiving its fair share of vaccines based on population.
In Worcester County, 10,036 people have received the first dose, or 19.2 percent of the population. Meanwhile, in Prince George’s County, 63,471 people have received the first dose, or 7 percent of the population. Furthermore, in Baltimore City, 64,744 people have received the first dose, or 10.9 percent of the population.
While those numbers indicate that Worcester is getting its fair share of the state’s vaccine allotment, with nearly a fifth of its population having received at least one dose, there is one factor that could contribute to a false reading: the number of out-of-town property owners who also may have been vaccinated locally or have been trying to schedule an appointment.
“Vaccine allocation is determined by population. Our year-round population (roughly 53,000) is low, but there are many property owners who are likely trying to get vaccinated in Worcester, even if they live elsewhere,” Brown said. “That puts a strain on the current system. The county commissioners have also officially asked the state for additional vaccines in Worcester County.”
Maryland is still in Phase 1C of the vaccine distribution plan, which includes residents 65 and over, as well as critical workers in high-risk settings.
While federal guidelines make 2 million Marylanders eligible, the state is only receiving 12,000 first doses per day.
As of Wednesday, Maryland providers have administered 1,149,267 total doses of covid-19 vaccines, and 84.1 percent of all first doses received from the federal government have been administered. The state is averaging 30,387 shots per day.
“We are utilizing every single dose we are allocated and building an infrastructure with the capability of doing up to 100,000 shots per day just as soon as they are made available,” said Gov. Larry Hogan in a press conference on Tuesday.
Hogan also announced on Tuesday that Maryland has entered into agreements with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University to double the coronavirus genomic sequencing volume to screen and sequence over 10 percent of all covid-19 cases. This will give Maryland one of the strongest surveillance programs in the U.S. and around the world.
“While these variants are not known to cause more severe illness, they do tend to be more contagious, so it is critically important that we stay ahead of them by aggressively testing, tracing and quarantining as needed,” the governor said. “Our state public health laboratory has already been testing for these variants at a much higher rate than other states using sequencing to track the mutations of the virus, including the U.K., South African and Brazilian variants, all of which we have identified here in our state in recent weeks.”
Hogan said the presence of the coronavirus mutations shows that “the global vaccination campaign is a race between vaccines and variants.”
“There are across the United States right now over 1,600 documented cases with variants who’ve been identified in the U.S. The majority of those are the B. 1.1. 7, or again, the U.K. variant,” said Maryland Department of Health Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Jinlene Chan. “About 60 cases have been identified in total here in Maryland with the majority again being the U.K. variant.”
More studies are being conducted to determine the severity of these mutations, but studies in a laboratory setting suggest that antibodies produced from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may not be protective against the new variants, Chan said.
“It is still believed that having the vaccine is still an important step toward protecting against disease from covid-19, even those caused by some of the variants of concern,” she added.
The increase in the capability of genomic sequencing will help the state identify variants of concern.
“Now, the viral genome is essentially a set of genetic instructions that help to build the viral structure, and so what genomic sequencing does is it basically gives us the details of what those instructions look like,” Chan said. “So, it helps us understand how the virus instructions, or the genome, might change over time and also helps us identify those variants of concern that again some of which we have mentioned and have already been found here in the state.”
Genomic sequencing along with contract tracing helps state and local health departments identify and track cases throughout the state to understand the spread of covid-19.
Through contact tracing efforts, Chan said the majority of cases of the variants of concerns have not had any known travel history, which means there is ongoing community transmission in the state.
“It’s now more important than ever that we wear our masks, we practice social distancing and that we avoid large gatherings to try to prevent the ongoing transmission of the variant cases,” Chan said.
As school systems work to reopen for in-person instruction in March, Hogan made an executive Tuesday that requires masks to be worn by anyone over the age of 5 in any area of school setting where interaction with others is likely to occur, such as hallways, cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums and classrooms.
Additionally, Hogan announced on Monday that Maryland’s covid-19 positivity rate dropped below 4 percent for the first time since Nov. 2, 2020. On Tuesday, the statewide positivity rate was 3.09 percent, which is the lowest it has been since Oct. 31, 2020.
Overall, the statewide positivity rate has dropped by more than 58 percent since it peaked at 9.43 percent in January. The positivity rate is under 9 percent in all 24 jurisdictions and under 5 percent in 14 jurisdictions.
As of Thursday, Worcester’s covid-19 positivity rate was 4.79 percent, a decrease from 5.07 percent last week. That’s still higher than the state’s rate of 3.74 percent.
Worcester has confirmed 35 new cases since last week. This brings the county’s total cases since March to 3,252.
The Maryland Department of Health reported Berlin and Ocean Pines had 1,315 and Ocean City had 812.
Worcester has recorded 92 deaths from covid-19.
“Covid hospitalizations have declined each week for the last six weeks, dropping by 50 percent from nearly 2,000 last month to 978 today. This decline in hospitalizations is consist across all regions of the state,” Hogan said on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, five patients with coronavirus were in Atlantic General Hospital – three in the medical/surgical unit and two in the intensive care unit, Yonker said.
Hospital personnel have cared for seven patients who have come off a ventilator. Atlantic General has discharged 312 coronavirus patients who are recovering.
On Tuesday, Hogan also warned Maryland citizens about an increase in covid-19 vaccine fraud, including calls from people claiming to represent the health department and asking for payments and social security numbers.
“Last week, the U.S. attorney filed a criminal complaint against three Baltimore-area individuals for a scheme to allegedly sell covid-19 vaccines by replicating the website of a well-known biotech company,” the governor said. “I want to make this very clear. No one can sell you a vaccine. No one can charge you for a vaccine. It is free. No insurance information is required, and no social security information is required. You can access and verify information regarding all authorized providers at covidvax.maryland.gov.”
He encouraged citizens to report fraudulent activity to law enforcement immediately.
The Worcester County Health Departments hosts vaccine clinics at the Worcester County Recreation Center in Snow Hill on Tuesdays, West Ocean City Park and Ride on Thursdays, the Elks Lodge in Pocomoke on Fridays and the Worcester County Health Department facility in Snow Hill on Saturdays when doses are available.
The health department has a single central waiting listing that includes all clinics. To register for this waiting list, call 667-253-2140.
Individuals are advised to leave a phone number, so they can be notified when an appointment time becomes available based on eligibility.
The number that will show up when the Worcester County Health Department Covid-19 Vaccine Call Center calls you back, will come up as 410-632-1100 or 410-632-1016.”
The call center will request the following information: first name, last name, email address, phone number, age, first dose or second dose, Phase 1C eligibility, any underlying health conditions, and county and state of residence.
Currently, Atlantic General Hospital is offering covid-19 vaccine clinics Tuesday through Friday.
“Our focus this week is 65 and up for all clinics,” Yonker said. “We are working through our faith-based partnership with local houses of worship to educate and encourage individuals that might be hesitant to receive the vaccine to schedule appointments”.
Last week, 510 doses of the vaccine were administered through the clinics. Yonker added that people are pulled from the waitlist at almost all clinics.
Online registration is required through the state of Maryland’s covid-19 vaccine scheduling website, marylandvax.org.
Photo identification is required at the appointment. Patients and community members are advised to arrive no more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment.
For more information about how to register for a vaccine clinic, visit agh.care/vaccine or call the coronavirus vaccine information line at 410-641-9272.
Through the federal long-term care program, CVS and Walgreens are conducting vaccination clinics at Maryland nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Patients must register in advance at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app. People without online access can contact CVS customer service at 800-746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided.
Giant, Walmart, Safeway and Rite Aid pharmacies have also joined the state’s vaccine distribution network in critical areas.
A new statewide system is launching in March to pre-register for the state-run mass vaccination sites.
For vaccine information and resources, visit covidlink.maryland.gov.
According to the CDC, Phase 3 clinic trials are in progress or are planned for three covid-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Janssen Biotech, Inc. (a division of Johnson & Johnson) and Novavax.
Atlantic General Hospital explained in an article published on Feb. 15 that Janssen’s vaccine uses viral vector technology to create immunity, while Pfizer’s and Moderna’s covid-19 vaccines use mRNA technology. This means Janssen’s vaccine uses a weakened adenovirus (the cause of the common cold) that has genetic material from the coronavirus inserted within it to introduce the coronavirus’s genetic material to a person’s immune system.
Janssen’s viral vector vaccine requires only one shot. The mRNA vaccines require two shots to create full immunity.
Hogan had a teleconference with CDC and White House officials Tuesday, during which federal officials said they anticipate emergency use authorization could be granted by the FDA for Janssen’s vaccine very shortly and allocations may be available as early as next week.
Public health officials are encouraging anyone who feels sick, or who may have had contact with someone who has contracted the coronavirus to get tested. All Worcester County residents, employees and their children 8 years and older who are experiencing covid-19 symptoms are eligible for testing.
People who suspect they may have the virus should call their primary care providers or the health department. The Worcester County Health Department has a hotline Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to determine if a person should be tested. Call 410-632-1100, select option eight and then press one.
Testing is available at most urgent care centers and some pharmacies. People who have covid-like symptoms can also discuss options for testing with their primary care providers, according to the local health department.
Saturday hours for covid-19 testing have been expanded at Atlantic ImmediCare urgent care clinic on 10th Street. Individuals can now get a test between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. No appointment is necessary. Weekday hours for walk-in testing continue to be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Because of high demand for testing, anyone planning to arrive after 2 p.m. during the week is asked to call ahead. The testing clinic can be reached at 410-289-0065.
Rapid tests are available for patients experiencing two or more symptoms of the coronavirus. Exposure to someone with covid-19 is not a factor for rapid testing. If a patient does not meet the criteria to have a rapid test, they can still have the standard test. Turnaround time varies from 48 hours to five days.
For more information, visit www.agh.care/COVID19.
To track Maryland cases, visit coronavirus.maryland.gov/.
Marylanders are also encouraged to sign up for additional updates by texting ‘MdReady’ to 898-211.
Maryland Department of Health Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said the state launched a telephone-based Covid-19 Vaccination Support Center.
“It’s designed to target those who need access to vaccines through the phone,” Schrader said.
The Covid-19 Vaccination Support Center advocates provide information about Maryland’s vaccination efforts, schedule appointments at state-run mass vaccination sites and identify covid-19 vaccine providers for callers closest to them geographically.
English and Spanish speaking advocates are available for callers.
“Residents can also elect to be served by live agents through text messaging or by engaging online via chatbot or instant message,” he said.
As of this week, the center will have more than 500 advocates to receive calls.
During the soft launch last week, the center conducted nearly 6,000 inbound and outbound calls to seniors from lists from the Maryland Department of Aging. More than 2,000 appointments were scheduled through the calls.
For more information, call 1-855-634-6829 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
To report a restaurant or bar for not following safety guidelines, call the county environmental health department at 410-352-3234.