As the Carroll County Health Department begins its move toward the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Health Officer Ed Singer said he is beginning to “see a little more light at the end of the tunnel.”
Singer briefed the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday regarding COVID-19 case trends and vaccinations, noting that the demand among residents older than 75 and Carroll County Public Schools educators who want to be vaccinated is beginning to diminish. He also detailed equity in distribution and what is being done with 500 extra doses received by the county this week, as well as outlined some of the new approaches the health department is taking toward getting shots in arms.
“I’m actually very encouraged with where we are this week,” Singer told the commissioners.
According to health department numbers, more than 27,000 Carroll countians have been vaccinated. Some 7,310 adults older than 75 have been vaccinated after nearly 900 got shots on Monday or Tuesday, leaving about 4,000 more in that group — many of whom have already turned down the vaccine.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, called the progress being made in vaccinating those over 75 “very encouraging.”
In terms of educators, health department data shows that 4,559 public school employees have been vaccinated out of an estimated 5,500. Singer said another clinic has been scheduled for 450 school system workers and that he was told by a school system official that this was the first clinic sign-up that hadn’t been filled in a matter of minutes. He said a scheduled clinic for 550 people working in higher education should pretty much take care of vaccinating everyone in that group who wants to be vaccinated.
“Not everybody is going to want to get vaccinated. Within the next week or two, everyone who wants the vaccine will have been offered the vaccine,” said Singer, noting that anyone who previously said no who changes their mind should get in touch with the health department. “We want to make sure nobody falls through the cracks ... make sure everybody has an opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Along those lines, Singer shared data about vaccination equity, which has been an issue throughout the state and the country.
It is estimated that the number of people 75 or older living in the community or in assisted living includes 11,575 white people, of whom 54.4% have been vaccinated; 289 Black people, of whom 50.9% have been vaccinated; 186 Asian people, of whom 32.2% have been vaccinated; and 143 Hispanic people, of whom 28.7% have been vaccinated.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how we don’t leave anybody behind in Carroll County,” Singer said. “As we move through the phases, we want to make sure we’re reaching out to our minority populations.”
County Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, noted that equity is needed not just in demographics but in locations, “ensuring that Carroll County is covered, as best we can, like a blanket. Not one district over another.”
Singer noted the health department is trying to specifically target those from traditionally poorer neighborhoods and communities, including those without internet access, and that they have been largely successful by working with citizens services to identify underserved populations.
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Singer said the health department received an extra 500 doses on Tuesday, including 300 of the new one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said the department opened up an extra 200 slots at its Tuesday clinic and would be administering the 300 Johnson & Johnson doses Friday. Some of those shots will get into the arms of people who are 65 to 74 years old and are in Phase 1C as the health department takes a gradual step toward fully opening up to those in 1C.
“Finally getting into the 1C population was very important,” Singer said, noting that people ages 65 to 74 have been upset by their inability to be vaccinated. “It’s going to take us a lot of time because there are a huge number of people in 1C, but we’re starting to progress.”
According to health department data, there are about 23,000 Carroll countians in Phase 1C. About 4,200 have been vaccinated so far.
In terms of some different approaches, Singer said the health department is collaborating with LifeBridge to reach older adults who are not in care facilities but are unable to leave their homes to get to a vaccination clinic. He called this population “very vulnerable” and said they were able to identify 40 to 50 people with help from the departments of citizen services and social services.
Working with a team of nurses, vaccinations being taken and administered to homebound patients began Wednesday, Singer said.
Another new method being contemplated is taking the vaccine to certain facilities to be able to administer numerous workers at one time as they get more into vaccinating those in Phase 1C, which includes not only those ages 65 to 74 but also workers in lab services, manufacturing, agriculture and the Postal Service, among other sectors.
“When it’s your turn, we want you to get the vaccine,” Singer said.