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‘You cannot get COVID from the vaccine’: Carroll County officials answer questions during virtual town hall

“Why hasn’t Carroll County moved to the next phase of vaccinations?” “Why doesn’t Carroll County have enough COVID-19 vaccine?” “Why can’t I get vaccinated right now?”

Carroll County Commissioner Ed Rothstein and Health Officer Ed Singer answered variations of those questions over and over, as well as a few dozen others, during a virtual town hall that lasted more than 90 minutes Tuesday evening.

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Many of the submitted questions were “candid,” as Rothstein put it, and the wording and apparent tone seemed to express frustration with a process that has seen Carroll County remain in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan long after the state moved to Phase 1C. Rothstein called it a “deliberate” decision to stay focused on those Carroll countians most vulnerable, those over 75 years old, and said they were taking a “surgical approach.”

“There’s a reason these priority groups were created. Certain groups, certain people, are more vulnerable to getting sick and potentially dying of COVID-19,” Singer said. “If we’d have moved into 1C four or five weeks ago when we were able, we’d have half the people over 75 who’ve been vaccinated and have less teachers, too.”

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Singer said 32,334 Carroll residents have been vaccinated, roughly 18.2% of the county’s population. That is above the state average. He said 8,017 people over 75 have been vaccinated, leaving some 3,200 who still need shots.

Several questions came from those who said they are over 75, want the vaccine and have not been able to get it. Singer said there is a clinic in Eldersburg on Thursday and clinics next week in the North Carroll area and in Mount Airy, all for those 75 and over. Those who haven’t registered just need to call the health department at 410-876-4848.

“If you’re over 75, please call us and somebody will help you schedule an appointment,” he said.

Singer said the challenge is becoming finding those over 75 — six or seven phone messages have been left for some — and that when they aren’t able to fill clinics with those over 75, they immediately line up some in Phase 1C. Singer reiterated the problem is simply not having enough vaccine.

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“We haven’t been getting as many doses as we would like. We have a lot more capacity if we are able to get more doses,” he said. “When we got our first 100 doses, I said, ‘When it’s your turn, get vaccinated.’ But there’s a limited supply and everybody has to wait their turn.”

That notion clearly is frustrating many, particularly those in the 65 to 74 age group.

Many questioners asked why Carroll countians are being forced to drive an hour or more to get the vaccine and one asked specifically why Carroll County is receiving less vaccine, per capita, than most other counties in the state.

Rothstein said he, along with state Sens. Justin Ready and Katie Fry Hester and Dels. Susan Krebs and April Rose, had a call Monday night with acting Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader about that topic.

“I was very direct and pointed in feeling that we were not getting our fair share,” Rothstein said, noting that the allotment is not done strictly on the basis of population but also taking into account the percentage of residents that had already been vaccinated. He said he applauded Ready for saying to Schrader that it seems like the county is being penalized for doing a good job and for being efficient.

Some of the questioners didn’t quite have their facts straight.

One, asserting that his calculations showed only about 12,000 people in Carroll over age 60, wondered why they weren’t all vaccinated. It was pointed out that there are actually about 28,000 in the county who are over 65. Another wondered, if half of everyone over 65 has been vaccinated throughout the United States, why isn’t that the case here? Singer said more than 14,000 of those Carroll countians over 65 have been vaccinated, so that is the case here.

Another said it didn’t make sense that the various senior centers, which are closed to the public, haven’t been used for vaccination clinics. Singer said several of them are, but two of them are too small so they have used schools in those areas instead.

There were several questions related to whether those with existing health conditions could be moved up on the vaccine list. Singer suggested they see their primary care physicians, who can work with the hospital to get them moved up if their existing health conditions are severe enough, but that the health department is not able to do that.

Among the other questions and answers from Singer or Rothstein:

  • “Why are teachers, who are younger and some living outside of the county, being prioritized?” The idea locally, as well as at the state and federal level, is to lower the risk of transmission and having people in contact with each other take the virus home. Singer noted that a Manchester Valley High School teacher living in Hanover, Pennsylvania, could just as easily transmit the virus to a student as one living in Westminster, so where they live isn’t a factor.
  • “If you filled out an interest form for Carroll County and received the vaccine elsewhere, should you remove yourself from the Carroll list?” Yes.
  • “Do you have any projections for when the vaccine will become available for priority Phase 2?” While President Joe Biden said everyone should be able to get a shot by May, Singer said he didn’t want to be that optimistic and said “realistically” everyone should be getting it this summer.
  • “Does the county need any volunteers?” Yes, of all skill ranges. Those interested should go to the Volunteer with Maryland Responds portion of the health department’s website.
  • “What other locations are people being encouraged to go to?” Singer said he encouraged those motivated and able to make an appointment at one of mass clinics or go to the LifeBridge clinic in Randallstown. He also noted that a CVS in Eldersburg, a Giant in Westminster and five Walgreens pharmacies throughout Carroll are options as well.
  • “If you go elsewhere for your first dose, can you get your second dose from the Carroll health department?” No. The second doses are tied to the first dose allocations.
  • “Can someone who already had COVID-19 get the vaccine?” Yes. People have been reinfected, although they are thought to be safe for three months after the first diagnosis.
  • “Why should someone not get vaccinated?” Singer encouraged people who are immune-compromised to speak to their physician but said there really are few reasons not to.
  • “Can you get COVID from the vaccine?” Singer tried to be as clear as possible on this one, saying, “No. Absolutely not. Scientific fact. You cannot get COVID from the vaccine.”

As they were wrapping up, Singer and Rothstein expressed optimism and asked that everyone continue to wear masks.

“Wearing these masks has allowed us to get where we are and allowed the governor to open up the restaurants and retail [to full capacity],” Rothstein said. “It doesn’t mean it’s gone or it’s going to go away tomorrow. It’s going to go away by us doing what’s right.”

New cases

The Carroll health department reported 24 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, 23 members of the community and one staff member at Copper Ridge Assisted Living, opening a new outbreak at that site.

Carroll’s case rate per 100,000 people per day, which is reported as an average over the past seven days, rose to 11.96, a jump of about 50% in the past five days but still well off the case rate peak of 47.58 on Jan. 11.

Carroll’s seven-day testing positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that return positive results, remained at 3.3%. It has been below 5% since Feb. 14, having reached 8.34% on Jan. 8.

Four new hospitalizations were announced. There were no fatalities or new probable cases announced. A health department spokesperson said some data that is generally made available each day was unavailable on Tuesday.

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