The winter storm that started Thursday morning will disrupt COVID-19 vaccine and testing appointments across the Baltimore region and could delay vaccine shipments, exacerbating widespread frustration due to a lack of both supply and available appointments.
Local officials are closing clinics — whether vaccine, testing or both — and rescheduling appointments in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties due to the storm. The state’s mass vaccination sites in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City will be shuttered too.
“It affects a lot of people all down the line, from planning to getting needles in arms and swabs in noses,” said Jennifer Martin, deputy commissioner for population health and disease prevention at the Baltimore City Health Department.
Ed Singer, president of the Maryland Association of County Health Officers, said in addition to potentially needing to cancel clinics this week during the storm, the bad weather already is impacting shipments for next week.
“The vaccine shipments aren’t showing up,” said Singer, also the health officer for Carroll County. “I’m very concerned about next week. We can make this week work if we can have clinics with the doses we have in the fridge, but not next week.”
He had not polled other health departments to see which others had not yet received expected doses, but said others were likely in the same position and would have to do some rescheduling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of delayed shipments due to nationwide winter storms this week.
Baltimore’s vaccination site at the Baltimore City Community College will close Thursday, along with the city’s mobile vaccination clinics, Martin said. Officials will contact those with second-dose appointments Thursday to reschedule, and the city might open a weekend clinic to make up appointments, she said.
No decision has been made whether to postpone Friday’s appointments in Baltimore, too.
“We like to wait as long as possible to make a decision, because we know weather forecasts can change and can change pretty frequently,” Martin said. “People want to get vaccinated. People need to get vaccinated. We’re taking that seriously and trying to remain open as much as possible.”
The mass vaccination site at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County will be closed Thursday, and all appointments will be rescheduled for March 3 at the same time.
The city health department said it has been “made aware” that all vaccine and testing services at the Baltimore Convention Center, the state’s other mass site, will be suspended Thursday.
“Appointments at the state’s mass vaccination sites that are cancelled due to inclement weather are rescheduled for the next unscheduled vaccination day so as not to interfere with existing scheduled appointments,” state health department spokesman Charlie Gischlar said in an email.
The Baltimore County Health Department will close all its vaccine and testing clinics both Thursday and Friday. Those with vaccine appointments will receive an email with a new date. Those with testing appointments should reschedule on the health department’s website.
Second-dose appointments will be postponed until next Thursday, while the county is hoping to move first-dose appointments to Sunday, said Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, the county health director.
But the county health department can’t dole out the estimated 4,000 doses Sunday unless a Moderna vaccine shipment, already delayed by snow elsewhere in the country, arrives by 3 p.m. Friday.
“That’s what becomes a little bit unnerving and frustrating,” Branch said.
The Howard County Health Department said it has canceled all clinics Thursday and is “monitoring both weather conditions and vaccine supply” for clinics on Friday and Saturday.
“Everyone with an appointment for these clinics will be contacted directly by our team to reschedule as necessary, so please keep a watchful eye on your email / phone / text messages. Stay safe and healthy (and WARM), HoCo!” the county health department said in a tweet.
The Harford County Health Department moved its Thursday appointments up to Wednesday at Patterson Mill High School, and said the clinic will open at noon Friday, instead of 9 a.m.
“If you were scheduled between 9am and 12pm, you may come at any time between 12pm and 4pm,” the Harford health department tweeted. “If you were scheduled between 12pm and 5pm, your appointment is not impacted.”
The Anne Arundel County testing clinics at the Annapolis Exchange and Baymeadow will close Thursday due to inclement weather, the county health department tweeted. The county’s vaccine clinics will be closed, too. Officials will contact those with vaccine appointments to reschedule, but those with testing appointments should schedule a new one.
Carroll County’s testing center will be closed Thursday, the health department said.
If need be, Carroll County’s plan is to automatically push all vaccine appointments already made back by a week. Singer said it was easier for everyone if the department does the rescheduling rather than canceling appointments and making people get back in the registration queue.
People would be notified by email or phone call. Those assigned make-up appointments they can’t attend may reschedule.
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“We can’t blame anyone for the weather,” Singer said. “We much prefer to just postpone, as opposed to cancel, appointments and slide everyone out a bit farther.”
Martin, the Baltimore City deputy health commissioner, wasn’t worried about the snow putting the city’s already insufficient vaccine supply at risk of expiring while appointments are rescheduled.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, the two currently approved by the FDA, have different storage requirements, but concerns about expiration don’t typically come into play until the vial is opened to begin administering shots, she said.
“We don’t have any concerns about vaccines expiring because of the weather,” Martin said.
Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said hospitals are taking “extraordinary care” with the roughly one-ninth of the state’s supply of vaccines they are receiving “to ensure there is no waste, even if scheduled appointments have to be pushed back.”
“Like any other weather emergency, they have systems in place to reschedule patients as needed and will use those same systems to reschedule vaccination clinics as needed,” Atlas said in a statement. “They continue to vaccinate those eligible with the limited doses and they hope the supply will grow very soon.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this article.