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Long lines, frustration on first day of walk-up vaccine shots at this Western Maryland site

Excitement gave way to frustration outside a mass vaccination site in Hagerstown, Md., on Tuesday, as hundreds of people seeking the coronavirus vaccine without appointments were turned away and others were left waiting as long as seven hours for their shots.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday announced that the Hagerstown site would begin accepting walk-ups without appointments, spurring hundreds of residents from across the state to arrive at the location Tuesday morning — the same day eligibility at the state’s mass vaccination sites expanded to allow any Maryland resident over 16 to get a shot.

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After waiting several hours in a slow-moving walk-up line, some residents said they were told that doses were extremely limited and they were not likely to get vaccinated unless others with scheduled appointments failed to appear.

Shawna Bader-Blau, 46, traveled from Takoma Park to Hagerstown in search of the vaccine. Like others around her without appointments, she said, she expected to wait, but not for hours. Some people brought chairs; others had come on their way to work.

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When a state employee announced at noon that some patients may not get vaccinated at all, people got visibly angry, said Bader-Blau, who works at a nonprofit organization. She decided to stick it out, eventually getting her Johnson & Johnson shot at 3:30 p.m. — about seven hours after she had arrived.

Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said the state indicated in its news release Monday that “Marylanders should be aware that the process for the no-appointment lines will take longer, and there is no guarantee of receiving a vaccine.”

He did not say how many doses at the Hagerstown location were meant for those without appointments or whether it was policy to only give doses to walk-up patients if pre-scheduled appointments had been canceled. About 250 walk-up patients had been vaccinated as of 1 p.m., he said.

“A number of factors determine how many a site has on hand in real time, from appointments booked to the level of no-shows. This is why we encourage folks to preregister, so that you get a slot, and get in and out,” Ricci wrote in an email. Those who had secured vaccine appointments were generally able to leave the Hagerstown location within 45 minutes, he added.

But Bader-Blau said she thinks the state could have done more to manage the expectations of residents who thought a mass vaccination site accepting walk-up patients would be the solution to their months-long expedition of seeking out the vaccine.

“People were so elated yesterday. It was like a new beginning,” she said Tuesday. “It’s unconscionable that they didn’t have a better rollout.”

Maryland reported 867 new coronavirus cases and 15 new deaths Tuesday, with the seven-day average in current hospitalizations reaching 1,347 patients — a number not seen in the state since mid-February. Virginia reported 1,434 new cases and 41 deaths, while the District reported 122 new cases and two deaths.

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