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‘We just want to make it easy’: COVID vaccines now available at TownMall of Westminster via health department

Commissioner Stephen Wantz said it feels like just yesterday when Carroll County officials were trying to figure out how to get more COVID-19 vaccine and then ways to get it to the people. That’s all changed.

“Now you can just walk in to the mall, where there’s plenty of parking ... and just do this,” Wantz said during Thursday’s Board of Commissioners open session. “You get your shot, wait for 15 [minutes] and then you’re out. It’s just so easy and it’s going to get us back to normal so much more rapidly.”

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The Carroll County Health Department began offering COVID-19 vaccination clinics at TownMall of Westminster, in the former Sears store, on Tuesday. Starting Thursday, walk-ins were being permitted during clinic hours as vaccine supply allows. The department plans to hold clinics at varied hours, likely three days per week, to make them as accessible as possible.

“We prefer people to register in advance — it makes the process and line go more smoothly — but if you walk up and you just happen to be there that day when we’re running a clinic, we’d be glad to take you and get you vaccinated,” Health Officer Ed Singer told the commissioners. “This is what’s going to get us back to normal.

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“We just want to make it easy for people to get vaccinated.”

A Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinic is scheduled for Friday at the mall from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Moderna clinics have been set for Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. Clinic dates and times can be found at cchd.maryland.gov/registration-links.

According to Carroll County Health Department data, 47.7% of all Carroll County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 35.5% are fully vaccinated. Singer expressed concern that the vaccination curve appears to be flattening and that younger people seem less inclined to get the shots.

While 85% of Carroll residents older than 65 are vaccinated and 72% of those 60 to 64 are vaccinated, the numbers go down from there for each age group: 55% for 50 to 59, 52% for 40 to 49, 48% for 30 to 39, 37% for 20 to 29 and 27% for 16 to 19.

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Singer used a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chart to illustrate to people things they can safely do once vaccinated that fall in the “least safe” category when not vaccinated, such as eating out indoors, going to the movies, attending a full worship service or participating in an indoor exercise class.

Soon, it appears, a new age group will be eligible. Singer noted that it appears likely the federal government will approve the Pfizer vaccine for those as young as 12. He said there are about 8,000 people in Carroll ages 12 to 15.

Singer said they are already working on a partnership with LifeBridge Health to help get enough Pfizer vaccine to be able to run a clinic at TownMall — perhaps within a week of government authorization — open only to those in the 12 to 17 age group.

He envisions running the clinic all day on a Saturday to maximize the possibility of getting shots in the arms of young people.

Singer again expressed his confidence in the vaccine.

“I’m very confident that the vaccine is 95% effective. I’m very unlikely to get infected at this point because I’m vaccinated. I’m very unlikely to wind up in the hospital and I’m really unlikely to die from this,” he said. “It’s protecting people and getting us back to normal life.”

Along those lines, while he noted there was a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases in Carroll County last week, he said numbers are lower this week and the larger trend is a decline in cases. He said last week was “relatively flat” and that he considered it a “minor blip on the radar.”

He said Carroll Hospital continues to care for about 20 patients with the virus, but that it’s obvious they’re moving a positive direction because they’re talking about potentially taking down their surge capacity.

“I think everybody feels like we’re in a place where maybe we’ve hit the final hump and can put this behind us,” Singer said. “Again, vaccination is going to be important.”

The commissioners agreed.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat said he thinks that the messaging to the public should include the idea that getting vaccinated can mean getting rid of masks.

Commissioner President Ed Rothstein said the messaging needs to get out and people need to cooperate.

“The risk will be there. In order to minimize it, that’s why we wear the mask and that’s why we get vaccinated,” Rothstein said. “I do not believe in passports or cards and carrying those things around, but I do believe in setting the example. ... We’re not going to get through this unless we get vaccinated.”

Singer said messaging is going out through the school system and he suggested working with the Department of Recreation and Parks as well. He said as more events are taking place, the plan is to take the mobile health RV out and offer vaccinations to people while at fire carnivals or festivals or perhaps at the Fourth of July fireworks celebration.

“We’ve done a lot with our communications campaigns to get the most vulnerable populations vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve done a great job with that now we just need to reach younger people.”

To register

  • Go to cchd.maryland.gov/registration-links.
  • Read the registration tips, and click on a link to register for the clinic of your choice.
  • If you need assistance to register, call the COVID-19 call center at 410-876-4848. Staff is available to assist between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, or you can leave a message to receive a call back.
  • Registration is preferred and will make the vaccination process quicker, but walk-ins are permitted as long as vaccine supply allows.
  • The entrance to the vaccination site is outside the mall in the former Sears location; you cannot get to the site from inside the mall.
  • People who received their first dose of Moderna at another location may now receive their second dose at health department clinics at TownMall. However, interested individuals must bring their vaccination card to the clinic and must be vaccinated at least 28 days after their first dose of Moderna (per CDC guidance).

Carroll County residents are also encouraged to look at other locations offering vaccination in order to find the clinic most convenient for them. Anyone can directly schedule an appointment at Maryland’s mass vaccination sites at massvax.maryland.gov or by calling 1-855-MD-GOVAX. Many area pharmacies are offering the vaccines, including Pfizer for those 16 and older. Search by ZIP code and vaccine type at vaccines.gov. Individuals may also ask their health care providers if they are planning to offer the COVID-19 vaccine.

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