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Your Maryland COVID vaccine questions answered: Will there be a single sign-up? When do appointments become available?

Reporter Alex Mann answers your COVID-19 questions about vaccines, getting registered online and variants of the virus.

Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has reached a precarious point.

Some 750,000 people have received their first immunization and almost 500,000 have been fully vaccinated. But more than 2 million are estimated to be eligible to receive their vaccine under state guidelines, creating far more immediate demand for doses than there is supply of vaccine shots.

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Various providers, including health departments, hospitals and health systems, mass vaccination sites and retail pharmacies, are now administering the vaccine to eligible people in Maryland. . But a disconcerting maze of online registration mechanisms has made signing up for a vaccine appointment confusing, and state officials point to a critical shortage of doses as making matters worse.

Here are some of our answers to readers’ most frequent questions.

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Should I sign up on multiple vaccine providers’ websites?

Dennis R. Schrader, Maryland’s acting health secretary, told lawmakers last week that residents should sign up on as many waiting lists as they can find.

“We encourage people to get on waiting lists,” Schrader said.

But he added a caveat: Once someone gets an appointment, they should try to remove themselves from other waiting lists.

To show just how quickly appointments are snatched up, Gov. Larry Hogan at a news conference on Thursday explained what happened when registrations were opened for the state’s mass vaccination site in Prince George’s County.

“The initial 10,000 appointments we made available to the public at the Six Flags site were all completely reserved within 20 minutes,” Hogan said. “We simply cannot schedule appointments for vaccines that we do not yet know that we will receive.”

How can I find out when appointments become available?

Unfortunately, there’s no catchall here. But there are a few things you can try.

For Maryland’s mass vaccination sites, currently at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and the Convention Center in Baltimore, with another at M&T Bank Stadium coming on Feb. 25, sign up for text alerts about when appointments become available. Text MDReady to 898-211. For Spanish, texto MDListo a 898-211.

After you’ve gotten on a waiting list, some providers will contact you about available appointments. Others say you just have to keep checking their websites.

You can also enter your ZIP code into coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine to be referred to providers, though you’ll have to check each provider’s availability.

Will Maryland create a single sign-up site for COVID-19 vaccines?

All signs say no.

Despite calls from a variety of state lawmakers and a public that’s increasingly frustrated with the confusing maze of online sign-ups, Schrader and Hogan have said the “aggregating” website the state came up, which links consumers with vaccine providers’ websites, is adequate.

“There’s a risk of creating a single point of failure,” Schrader told lawmakers at a Senate meeting. He said that if the state created a single website and it crashed, Maryland’s entire vaccination system would fall apart.

Hogan acknowledged residents’ frustrations at a news conference Thursday, but doubled down on Schrader’s stance.

“We simply cannot schedule appointments for vaccines that we do not yet know that we will receive,” he said.

When will the vaccine shortage end?

A vaccine candidate from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 4 for emergency approval in America. Hogan said the federal government told him the vaccine could be approved this month.

Unlike the other vaccines currently available, which require two doses spread out over weeks, Johnson & Johnson’s only requires one injection, which could expedite the mass vaccination campaign. Millions of doses of vaccine from Johnson & Johnson are sitting in the East Baltimore factory of Emergent BioSolutions.

“This could very well be a major breakthrough in terms of in terms of increasing the supply of vaccines,” Hogan said.

However, he cautioned that even with such a development, it will likely be many months before there are enough vaccines for everyone who wants one.

“Please remain patient,” Hogan said.

Do I still need to wear a mask if I’ve been vaccinated? Is one mask enough?

“The vaccine will protect you from getting sick, but you could still spread it to those who might become sick who have not been vaccinated,” Dr. David Marcozzi, a top medical adviser to Hogan on COVID-19, said at the governor’s news conference Thursday.

Adding to the importance of proper masking is the emergence in Maryland of two more contagious strains of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. and South Africa, he said.

Those variants, which were first discovered in Maryland in January, are not believed to cause more severe illness. But there’s evidence the latter affects vaccine efficacy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Thursday, the state health department confirmed 22 cases of the U.K. variant and seven cases of the South African variant — a potential sign of community spread.

“The bottom line is this: The transmission of this virus decreases when we wear well-fitting masks with multiple layers,” Marcozzi said.

The CDC recently released further guidance about masking, noting that a mask should have layers, cover your nose and not have any big gaps. Gaps allow respiratory droplets in and out, while layers protect you better against disease.

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