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What to know about Maryland’s plans to distribute the coronavirus vaccine, set to arrive this week

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, doses of a highly anticipated vaccine could start arriving in Maryland as soon as this week.

Gov. Larry Hogan said during a news conference that the first shots are reserved for hospital workers and nursing home residents and employees.

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“This is by far the most massive undertaking of this pandemic,” Hogan said of the vaccine distribution.

Here’s what you need to know:

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Will I be able to immediately get the vaccine?

No, unless you are a hospital worker or live or work at a nursing home. That group will be prioritized first — but even the first batch of vaccines that Maryland is likely to receive won’t be enough for that whole group.

I don’t understand. Why can’t I get one yet?

It may be months before most members of the public will be able to get the vaccine, as the state works down a list of priority groups, starting with health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by those at higher risk of complications and death, essential workers, people at moderate risk of severe illness and finally, the general population.

The prioritization of different groups was done following federal guidelines, and also in hopes that by vaccinating those at highest risk of complications first, hospitals would be able to maintain enough room to treat all those who fall ill.

“As we get more vaccine...we will be able to expand the number of people and the groups that are able to access the vaccine,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s top public health official.

Eventually the vaccine will be available at your pharmacy or your doctor’s office, said Bryan Mroz, a nurse who is the assistant secretary and chief medical officer for the state health department.

If I can’t get it now, can I at least register to get one in the future?

In the coming weeks, the state is expected to release a registration system that will allow Marylanders to register in advance for the vaccine.

The system will also remind people when it is time to receive the second dose of the vaccine, which is required to make it as effective as possible.

How many vaccines are available?

The initial batch of vaccines will be enough to give just the first of two shots to about 155,000 people — 50,700 doses of a Pfizer Inc. vaccine could begin as soon as Monday, with 104,300 doses of a Moderna Inc. vaccine arriving a week later.

The state expects to receive 300,000 doses expected by the end of the month, Hogan said.

After the first week, Chain said the state believes it will continue to get more vaccines in the weeks and months until all Marylanders who want a shot can receive one.

Will where I live make a difference in when I get a vaccine?

Population density will be a factor in how many vaccine doses go to different jurisdictions statewide.

“It doesn’t make sense to give a Montgomery County or a Baltimore County fewer doses than a county out in Western Maryland, for example,” Chan said.

But some of it will also depend on logistics, as the Pfizer vaccine requires very cold storage and delicate handling, she said.

“That will also be a consideration about who can manage it and who can handle the types of vaccine that will be available,” Chan said.

Is the vaccine going to be required?

When asked if vaccines would be required for state employees or schoolchildren, Hogan said that “we don’t have any intention of requiring these vaccines, but we’re going to do everything we can to encourage.”

Clinical trials are just beginning for children, so there is little or no information about the efficacy and any side effects of vaccines on children, Chan said.

“Down the road, there may be considerations for that, but it would be premature right now to make that mandatory in schoolchildren or others,” Chan said.

Is it effective?

The Pfizer vaccine has shown 95% efficacy and the Moderna vaccine has shown 94.1% thus far. Pfizer and Moderna have said there were no serious side effects reported.

Chan said most people did not have side effects in vaccine trials, but some had mild fever, headaches or pain at the injection site. She said additional studies will provide more clarity on the safety of the vaccines in children and whether people would need to be vaccinated annually, as they do for the flu.

The state is launching a vaccine confidence campaign, including outreach to trusted community leaders and addressing vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford have pledged to get the vaccine publicly.

“We’re going to engage at a micro-local level, community leaders and people that will maybe help convince others that it is safe,” Hogan said. “We’ve got to convince folks to do it or we’re not going to be able to stop the spread.”

How are the vaccines stored?

They come frozen, and the Pfizer vaccine is stored at -80 degrees Celsius and Moderna at -20.

Dry ice can be used to store the vaccine in its shipping container, or it can be transferred to a specially designed low-temperature freezer.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Jeff Barker contributed to this article.

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