Addressing the County Council Tuesday, Harford’s new Health Officer Dr. David Bishai said the county is poised to quickly use its first shipment of vaccines, but cautioned that the state’s share of inoculations are not likely to change the epidemic’s course until months down the road.
“Right now we are only going to cover a third of Marylanders by May,” he said. “The relief is coming, but the vaccine is not here in the large numbers that we would have needed to put the brakes on this month.”
While the vaccine offers 95% protection from the virus, it is not a panacea, Bishai said. He cautioned county residents to continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines and thanked them for their compliance throughout the pandemic.
“I do not predict it to have a profound effect on the epidemic throughout January or February,” Bishai said. “It will really only start to slow the epidemic closer to April, May or June.”
As of Thursday, there have been 9,195 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Harford and 171 related deaths, according to Maryland Department of Health data. The positivity rate was 8.87% on Thursday, and the average new case rate was 35.85 per 100,000.
The county is following the state’s guidelines for vaccine distribution — starting with first responders and health professionals in group 1A, Harford County Health Department deputy health officer Marcy Austin said Tuesday. The county has received the vaccine developed by Moderna, which can be stored in a regular freezer, unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, which requires ultra cold storage.
Earlier Tuesday, Hogan said Maryland National Guard members would be activated to provide support to county health departments with both giving vaccines and administering the process. Mraz said National Guard support would not be needed in Harford County at this time.
On Monday, the health department received an additional 2,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine and will be planning to distribute them as quickly as possible next week, Austin said. The department was only given a day’s notice of the shipment. The state allocates doses of the vaccine to counties in proportion to their populations, Austin explained.
CVS and Walgreens will receive their own vaccines directly and inoculate nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Austin said.
Brightview Senior Living, which operates a number of senior living communities in Maryland, including two on West Ring Factory Road in Bel Air, reported it had received early doses of the vaccine from Walgreens. The first clinics began Tuesday and will stretch into February, according to a news release.
Public comment at Tuesday’s council meeting was dominated by calls to reopen schools, with parents saying their children were suffering academically and mentally. Bishai said he met with Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Bulson on Tuesday; it appeared “he was not anywhere close to reopening.”
Teachers are among the next group of people to be vaccinated under the state’s tiered plan and could get the shots as soon as February, Bishai said. While the vaccine will help schools reopen, Bishai said inoculation is not the only way to reopen schools safely for the students and teachers.
“If we are thinking about getting these schools open by April or May, it is going to be part vaccines but part our own willpower to deal with our fatigue of COVID-19. We have got to keep our good behaviors up, all of the stuff we hate doing, but we do it anyway,” Bishai said. “We saw what happened when we tried to open them during a high rate of virus transmission; it just doesn’t work when there is a high rate of virus.”