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COVID-19 vaccinations begin in Prince George’s; Capital Region Health locations lead the way

Prince George’s County health officials are spotlighting the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines to county residents.

University of Maryland Capital Region Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Wright wants to achieve herd immunity in the county, which is not just protecting yourself but protecting loved ones, he said. When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection—or herd immunity, according to John Hopkins Medical School.

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Capital Region Health is distributing the vaccine for its workforce, which is the largest health care system in the county and includes Bowie Health Center, Laurel Medical Center, and Prince George’s Hospital Center. It also includes outpatient sites in Cheverly, Bowie, Laurel, Suitland and National Harbor.

Sixty percent of the workers at these centers are residents of Prince George’s County, Wright said. “It is important for us to emphasize to our workforce the importance of the vaccine because our workforce represents the community,” he said.

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Capital Region Health started its vaccinations on Dec. 16 with over 300 workers in the first round. As of Tuesday, they have given over 650 workers vaccines across all Capital Region Health properties, Wright said. They have been distributing the Pfizer vaccine but will start giving out Moderna as well.

Prince George’s County received its first shipment of Moderna vaccines on Dec. 21. The manufacturers send the vaccines to the county but the state of Maryland is controlling how it is distributed, said county Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter.

Prince George's County Health Officer, Dr. Ernest Carter getting COVID-19 Moderna vaccine
Prince George's County Health Officer, Dr. Ernest Carter getting COVID-19 Moderna vaccine (Courtesy Photo)

Carter got the vaccine himself on Dec. 22, and said it was easy. He has to wait for his second dose in 28 days.

“I feel great. The next day after the shot my arm was sore, that’s all. But they say after the second one you get a few more symptoms,” Carter said. “One of the good things about this vaccine is they don’t give you the full live virus, they give you a little part of it, so your body can recognize it. You don’t get all the full blown symptoms and most people don’t get them.”

Starting on Sunday, Wright plans on ramping up the vaccinations to 240 workers a day and 1,320 a month. The goal is to get all 3,500 Capital Region Health workers by March.

The county hospitals will start giving out second doses on Jan. 6, which will be the first second doses in the county, Wright said.

Wright has concern for people hesitant to get the vaccine and he wants to spread correct information to the community.

“I’m feeling optimistic that as more people know people that have got the vaccine, like myself and the members of my church, my community and family, they see nothing has happened to me,” Wright said. “We are trying to instill people that can be champions in the community and trusted voices.”

Like the county hospitals, Carter plans to ramp up distribution of the vaccine in the new year.

The county is giving vaccines to populations with the highest risk: frontline workers, first responders, and nursing home residents. They want to get to the general public as fast as they can, Carter said. The goal is to vaccinate at least 65% of the population.

So far the county health department has given more than 1,000 vaccinations to people, not including nursing homes or hospitals. According to state numbers, the National Capital Region which includes Prince George’s, Montgomery, Charles and Frederick counties, has given 5,581 vaccinations as of Tuesday.

The CDC has partnered with CVS, Walgreens and Managed Health Care Associates to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccination services for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

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The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program will reduce the burden on long-term care facilities and health departments, according to CDC.

Carter is grateful for the partnership program and its help for the county.

“The importance for us is to get our bodies caught up, so we can have enough people immune to the virus so it won’t spread as rapidly. The goal is to have people stay away from each other or get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible to get back to normalcy,” Carter said.

Carter recommends the public get it when it is available to the general population because it is safe and effective. “This is going to save a lot of lives not a few.”

With a few winter months ahead, Carter predicts the virus is going to keep spreading rapidly.

“I want to keep people safe. We want everybody to have access to the vaccine and we are going to be pretty aggressive in the new year about it,” Carter said.

But Wright doesn’t want people who get the vaccine to think they are invulnerable.

“Just because you got the vaccine, you can still transmit viral particles to other people, we are still going to have to mask and socially distance until we reach herd immunity,” Wright said. “Even after you are vaccinated you can still be an asymptotic carrier, you are protected and you won’t get sick but those in your circle that haven’t been vaccinated are vulnerable.”

Wright answers frequently asked questions:

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

“It is scientifically impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine,” he said. “It is not actual COVID-19 virus being injected into your body. It is a particle that generates an immune response in your body.”

Operation Warp Speed is the name of the effort to vaccinate Americans. Was the vaccine rushed?

“Poor choice of words probably, it makes people think corners were cut or rushed. We have had the basic framework for this vaccine for years but we haven’t had the genetic footprint of the actual virus, once we got that it was about building the body on the chassis,” he said.

How diverse were the phase three trials from Moderna and Pfizer?

“I have been pleased with those numbers. Pfizer had 9% African American and 26% in LatinX trials. While 9% is less than our representation in the population, its still a good number. So I feel comfortable insuring people that communities of color were represented,” he said.

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