Pylesville resident Barbara Kraft watched vaccinators closely as they worked at the state’s mass vaccination site at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen to give shots to people to protect them against COVID-19 — including her husband, Tony.
“Very professional, they did a great job,” said Kraft, a former healthcare worker who served as a nursing assistant at the former Fallston General Hospital as well as University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, and has provided private in-home care.
The mass vaccination center, which is being operated by the state and Harford County Health Department, opened Thursday in the stadium parking lot. Patients who had pre-registered for appointments checked in as they came to the lot entrance, were directed to drive to one of two large tents where they answered a series of screening questions, then drove to another tent where they were given the Pfizer/BioNTech shot while in their vehicles.
The patients then drove to another part of the lot where they waited for at least 15 minutes to ensure they did not have any adverse reactions to the vaccine.
Kraft, who is scheduled to get her first shot next week at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, described the clinic as “very well-organized,” in a later phone interview. She praised how workers on site took steps to avoid “cross contamination,” such as proper disposal of hypodermic needles and sanitizing their hands between patients.
Once she gets fully vaccinated, Kraft is looking forward to spending time with her sister and nieces and nephews, whom she has not seen for months during the pandemic, as well as getting together with friends. Before the pandemic, Kraft and her friends met for lunch on a regular basis.
Barbara and Tony Kraft stopped for lunch at Buon Gusto Pizzeria & Grill in Whiteford after the vaccine appointment, and they plan to go out for dinner Sunday to celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary.
“That the first time I’ve been out to eat — I know it’s been over a year,” Kraft said of the lunch outing.
She plans to keep wearing a mask when she goes out, even after being vaccinated, as she has underlying health issues and is unsure if others in the community plan to get inoculated.
Health officials at the clinic stressed the need for people to keep wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing their hands to protect themselves from COVID-19 after getting vaccinated.
Harford County has one of the highest COVID-19 positivity rates in the state — the percentage of people testing positive stood at 7.52% as of Wednesday, compared to a statewide positivity rate of 5.15%. That is down from a peak of 10.16% for Harford County as of April 2, but remains one of the worst in the state, behind only Dorchester County, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Vickie Bands, vaccine lead for University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, said patients are told to keep taking measures to protect themselves after getting the shot, as that is necessary “until we get herd immunity, and until we are sure we are on the downswing of this” pandemic. It takes about two weeks after a person’s second shot to achieve full immunity.
About 80 to 90% of the county’s population must be vaccinated to attain herd immunity, and “we can get back to normal life,” according to Bands.
“I am excited to see everyone get vaccinated, so we can control this COVID-19 disease,” she said.
Bands was with Jay Singh, pharmacy manager for Upper Chesapeake Health, in a smaller operations tent at the mass vaccination site. They watched as nurses and pharmacists, working with the state on a contract basis, prepared the vaccines before they were given to patients.
The workers ensured the doses were at the correct volume and free of any impurities such as air bubbles or contamination from light, before they were distributed to the people giving the shots, also contract workers.
Singh described those conducting the inspections as having “the most important” job at the clinic.
The vaccines slated for Harford County residents are in the custody of Upper Chesapeake and its two hospitals, its namesake in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, before they go out to clinics around the community such as the mass vaccination site in Aberdeen or those run by the county health department.
A list of local vaccination sites, such as the Woodbridge shopping center in Edgewood, and links to register for appointments are available on the health department website, or people can call 410-838-1500 for more information.
People also can get COVID vaccines through the Upper Chesapeake hospitals, which have been offering them since December, when the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both vaccines require two shots given several weeks apart.
“We really have been running [at] full speed,” Bands said.
She noted that vaccines are available through the hospitals five days a week, and then workers spend the sixth day in the community giving shots to vulnerable groups of people. A clinic to give second vaccine doses to more than 200 members of the local Hispanic community is scheduled for Saturday, Band said.
Vaccines have been administered, in more than 26,000 arms, through the health system since December, according to Bands. More information is on UCH’s web page on COVID vaccines, or people can call the health system’s Nurse Call Line, 1-888-713-0711, with questions about the disease.
Bands praised the mass vaccination site, too, as it is helpful for people with disabilities or mobility issues who don’t have to leave their vehicles. She also is glad to see more vaccines circulating in the community, “any way we can get them” out.
People can call 1-855-MD-GOVAX or visit the state’s GoVAX website for more information on registering for appointments at mass vaccine sites, which are available throughout Maryland. The site at Ripken Stadium will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, according to Harford County Health Officer Dr. David Bishai.
Patients can register in advance, or do same-day registration at the stadium starting next Tuesday, according to Bishai. He expects that the clinic will be open through July, and it is timed so it does not conflict with Aberdeen IronBirds’ baseball games in the evening.
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The Ripken Stadium site has the capacity to deliver up to 3,000 shots per day, according to Charles Gischlar, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health.
“We are in a race between the variant virus strains that are emerging and getting vaccines into the arms of Marylanders to defeat this virus,” he said.
About 45% of Harford’s adult population has been vaccinated over the past three-and-a-half months, so Bishai estimates it will take another three months to vaccinate the other half of the population.
He added that “the health department will be ready for them” if those who have been hesitant about COVID vaccines decide to get the shot.
Kraft said she had written a post on Gov. Larry Hogan’s Facebook page about the need for a mass vaccination site to serve Cecil and Harford County residents, so they do not have to travel to other mass sites locations such as Baltimore or Western Maryland.
“It was really well planned,” she said of the Harford site. “And, I think it will be very successful and I hope more people sign up for it.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated when a vaccinated person achieve full immunity.