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Concerns about COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Carroll County raised by commissioners, health officer

Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners expressed concern during their Thursday morning meeting over the state’s plan to expand COVID-19 vaccinations to more groups.

In response to plans to make the vaccine available to Phase 1C in the state’s distribution plan, which includes adults between the ages of 65 to 74 and other essential workers, county officials highlighted the need to focus on the over-75 members of Phase 1B who have yet to be vaccinated.

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“Who is dying from this and who is this really impacting?” Ed Singer, the county’s health officer, asked. “The people who are dying from this are largely in that 75-plus age group.”

Approximately 11,000 residents in Carroll County are over 75 according to data Singer presented to the commissioners. Of that group, 520 have been vaccinated and another 500 were scheduled to be vaccinated Thursday.

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But the state’s move to get the vaccine into more arms will cut into the number available to those in Phase 1B despite an existing shortage of vaccines.

Ed Singer, the top officer at the Carroll County Health Department, receives a Moderna vaccine at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 30, 2020. School nurse Nancy Jascur is administering the dose.
Ed Singer, the top officer at the Carroll County Health Department, receives a Moderna vaccine at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 30, 2020. School nurse Nancy Jascur is administering the dose. (Courtesy Photo/Carroll County Health Department)

Singer noted that last week 1,400 vaccines were administered to Carroll countians by the health department, but only 800 were provided by the state for next week.

“Getting down to 800 makes it very hard to reach the 11,000 people [in the 75-plus age group] plus the 6,500 that are in the education group we are trying to reach.” Singer said.

As the state begins to rely on mass vaccination sites and pharmacies, reaching the 75-plus population will be difficult, Singer told the board, as many in the group do not have access to internet, a computer or even a phone number.

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“We’re not going to reach this population very well if we’re not doing this locally.” Singer said.

Concern for vaccine rollout was not limited to those over 75. Commissioner Dennis Frazier conveyed concern for vaccine distribution in schools and among the nearly two thousand educators, school staff, other education support personnel in the county.

“The school system needs to do better than the free-for-all they are doing right now,” Frazier said.

Frazier described a current scenario where teachers receive emails about vaccination availability during the middle of the work day, questioning if those at highest risk from the virus were being prioritized.

While schools did prioritize special education teachers and LFI (Learning for Independence), there has been no indication of allocating to staff based on risk.

Singer said the health department would not be prioritizing school personnel and said it was ultimately up to the schools as to what order staff would receive the vaccine.

“The school system understands how they operate and which of their teachers are more at risk,” Singer said. “I need to rely on them to get me those priorities.”

As the Carroll County Health Department focuses on Phase 1B, Singer said efforts to expand into rural areas would be made. The department plans to run a clinic in Eldersburg next week and in Taneytown the week after.

“We have the capability of giving first doses of the vaccine to at least 5,000 people a week,” Singer said. “And we want more vaccines.”

The number of total cases of COVID-19 in Carroll has been 300 or higher since the beginning of December. Community spread has declined n recent weeks but it remains higher than numbers prior to Thanksgiving. The county has seen eight deaths in the past week.

Commissioner Ed Rothstein stressed the need for Carroll County to make autonomous decisions regarding vaccine distribution.

“My message to the state is to recognize that Carroll County is its own county just like the other jurisdictions,” he said, “and who knows best [for] Carroll County, but Carroll countians.”

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