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Unclear how many COVID-19 vaccines Harford County will receive as cases continue to rise, but metrics stabilize

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said it’s not clear how many doses of the coronavirus vaccine Harford County — or any Maryland jurisdiction — will receive once they start arriving in the state.

Doses of the highly anticipated coronavirus vaccine could start arriving in Maryland as soon as next week, with the first shots reserved for hospital workers and nursing home residents and employees, state officials said Tuesday.

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The state’s vaccination planning efforts have accelerated as multiple vaccine candidates near approval and as the infection rate and death toll from the pandemic continues to climb. Distribution of 50,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine could begin as soon as Monday, with 104,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine arriving a week later, Maryland Health Department officials said during a State House news conference.

The initial batch of vaccines will be enough to give just the first shot to about 155,000 people — just a tiny portion of what’s needed to eventually inoculate 6 million Marylanders, and not enough to cover the highest priority groups. A second shot is required weeks later to achieve full efficacy, which is more than 94% for both Pfizer and Moderna.

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The state expects to receive 300,000 doses expected by the end of the month, Gov. Larry Hogan said.

“This is by far the most massive undertaking of this pandemic,” the Republican said of the vaccine distribution.

With vaccine production is expected to ramp up in the coming weeks and months, the state is laying the groundwork for eventual mass distribution. The Maryland Department of Health issued an order Tuesday that allows any licensed health care provider with proper training — including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and even paramedics — to administer the vaccine.

It may be months before the general public will be able to get the vaccine, as the state works down a list of priority groups, starting with health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by those at highest risk of complications and death, essential workers, people at moderate risk of severe illness and finally, those without risk factors.

Glassman, a Republican, said the question he has been trying to get answered — unsuccessfully thus far — is how the vaccines would be divided among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions.

“I assume that it’s like the CARES funding and everything,” Glassman said. “Everything the state gives us as far as money is done by a population type formula. We’re around 250,000 and it’s usually pretty easy to extrapolate what we might get.”

Even if the vaccines were to be distributed evenly among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, that would leave each with a little more than 6,000 vaccines in the first round.

“Once you do the arithmetic, it doesn’t get you too far right off the bat,” Glassman said. “If they base it off population, some counties would get even less than that.”

Harford is the eighth-most populated jurisdiction in Maryland.

The prioritization of different groups was done following federal guidelines, and also in hopes that by vaccinating those at highest risk of complications first, hospitals would be able to maintain enough room to treat all those who fall ill.

Hospital capacity has been a key concern throughout the pandemic, as rooms fill with patients suffering from COVID-19, the sickness caused by the coronavirus.

Upper Chesapeake Health, which operates Harford County’s two hospitals, have not reached a critical situation, Glassman said.

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As of Tuesday, there were 40 people with the virus at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and five at Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, according to the county executive. Among those, 16 were in critical care.

“Those are higher than they have been, but the increases have stabilized,” Glassman said. “They go up or down one or two each day.”

Harford’s key metrics stabilizing

The county’s key coronavirus metrics have also begun to level out after seemingly daily spikes throughout the month of November.

More than 1,100 new coronavirus cases have been reported in Harford County over the past two weeks, averaging nearly 80 new cases each day during that time frame, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health released Tuesday.

There have also been 22 COVID-19 related deaths in that span, bringing the county’s totals to 6,704 confirmed cases and 111 deaths from the virus since the state began tracking in March.

Harford’s positivity rate and the seven-day moving average daily cases are trending in the right direction since a mid-November apex, but both remain higher than the benchmarks set by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be considered safe for loosening certain restrictions.

As of Tuesday, the positivity rate was 6.81%, continuing its mostly downward trajectory since Nov. 19, when the rate was 9.88%.

While Harford’s positivity rate tracked higher than the statewide rate for the entire month of November, it has been slightly lower than the Maryland average every day in December thus far, according to state data.

Harford’s average case rate was 29.92 per 100,000 residents. After 11 consecutive days of declines, following a peak average case rate of 47.26 Nov. 22, that metric spiked to 32.38, according to state data reported over the weekend, but has declined the past few days.

Meanwhile, the state’s average case rate has jumped to 44.8 per 100,000 residents, the highest it has been during the pandemic.

“We are back below state average, but we’re treading water, they go up and down,” Glassman said of the metrics. “I never feel great about it, but our numbers are a little more stable.”

He worried that the county had not yet seen its Thanksgiving spike. At Tuesday’s press conference, Hogan said the state’s numbers will likely get worse next week because of the lag in positive tests following holiday travel.

“All of December and January looks pretty rough,” the governor said.

‘Vaccine confidence’

The state is planning to roll out a marketing campaign to educate the public about vaccines in hopes of improving “vaccine confidence.” They plan to use “trusted community voices” to communicate what’s known about the vaccines, including possible side effects.

Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford pledged Tuesday to receive their coronavirus vaccine shots in public as soon as they’re eligible to get them.

The governor said the state would engage “at a micro-local level” with community leaders to encourage people to get the vaccine.

“We’ve got to convince folks to to do it or else we’re not going to be able to stop the spread,” the governor said.

Glassman said he has not been asked about being part of any public relations efforts regarding the vaccine, but that he’s done his own research and feels confident about the vaccine. He plans to take it once it becomes available to him, but said he’s reluctant to cut the line at someone else’s expense for marketing purposes.

“I want to take it, I’m getting up there, I’m 58, one of the higher risk groups,” he said. “I don’t want to jump ahead of a nurse or somebody who needs it more than me. I want to take it when my group gets called to take it.”

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Already in his travels, he’s heard from people who say they are going to wait or not take the vaccine.

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A national Gallup Poll conducted in late October and early November — before news about the successful trials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — found 58% of respondents were likely to get the vaccine.

A Goucher College Poll earlier in the fall found Maryland respondents split on taking a vaccine. The poll asked people whether they would take an FDA-approved vaccine. Forty-nine percent said they would not, while 48% said they would take the vaccine.

Glassman said he has confidence in the system and will be fairly vocal in his messaging encouraging people to take the vaccine.

“It’s our best hope to bring an end to this pandemic, for our business, our school children and everything,” he said. “We can not continue to tread water forever.”

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