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Harford seniors now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine; more than 9,300 doses already administered locally

The Harford County Health Department began its first COVID-19 vaccinations of the 1B group on Tuesday, and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health also announced it has begun registering people to get vaccinated at its two Harford County hospitals.

More than 4,000 individuals age 75 or older have pre-registered with the Health Department to get vaccinated as of the end of last week, said Molly Mraz, a spokesperson for the agency.

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About 400 people were expected to be vaccinated Tuesday with clinics running each week day, and two scheduled for this Friday, to get as many people in the priority groups inoculated as possible, she said.

“This does however depend on the availability of the vaccine and how much vaccine we are given each week,” Mraz said. “That is very important to understand. As long as we have the vaccine, we are vaccinating.”

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Typically, the Health Department has been updated on Sunday or Monday regarding the amount of doses it will receive the following week.

“We anticipate weekly shipments of vaccine in order to get our county vaccinated,” Mraz said.

An allotment of approximately 2,900 vaccines from the state this week are already spoken for, Mraz said, to include individuals from the 1A priority group that have yet to receive their first dose, eligible members of the 1B group and people from the 1A group that are ready for their second doses.

Second doses will start being administered the first week of February, she said.

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The vaccine efforts come as Harford County surpassed 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began last March, and is steadily approaching 200 deaths. As of Tuesday, 10,396 cases and 186 deaths had been reported locally. The positivity rate was 8.44% as of Tuesday and the average new case rate was 36.74 per 100,000 residents.

As of Friday, 3,105 doses of the vaccine had been administered by the Health Department to first responders and healthcare workers who were part of group 1A.

Overall, there have been 9,355 Harford residents vaccinated, according to Health Department data. In addition to those vaccinated by the Harford County Health Department, that figure also includes county residents of nursing homes that received the COVID-19 vaccine through CVS or Walgreens, per a federal agreement, as well as hospital workers and others who were vaccinated through their employer, such as those who work at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

“For example, if a Harford County resident works at Johns Hopkins, they could have been vaccinated there but counted in Harford County numbers because they are a resident of Harford County,” Mraz explained.

University of Maryland Medical System, which is responsible for vaccinating employees of Upper Chesapeake Health, was approaching 29,000 first- and second-dose vaccinations systemwide as of Tuesday, spokesperson Martha Mallonee said.

“With the state’s expansion of vaccine eligibility starting this week to Phase 1B, we are now registering individuals for COVID vaccinations at our hospitals in Bel Air and Havre de Grace,” she said, and evening and weekend hours will be available at the hospital’s vaccine clinics.

Like the Health Department, availability will be determined by the amount of vaccine UCH receives from the state and, because of the demand for the vaccine, Mallonee said it’s important the community remains patient.

Giant Foods and Walmart stores around Maryland will also begin assisting in vaccination efforts starting next week.

In Harford, the Giant at 1401 Rock Spring Road in Bel Air is the only store that will be administering the vaccine starting Jan. 25, according to the state’s website. The Elkton Walmart in Cecil County will also be administering the vaccine.

“Once Giant and Walmart begin vaccinating, it will lighten the load of the local health departments and also provide residents another location if they’re interested,” Mraz said.

Health department staff is contacting residents who have pre-registered to schedule appointments. The pre-registration form, however, is not the same as having an appointment, it only allows staff to determine eligibility for the vaccine and provides contact information to reach out to people when the vaccine is available for them.

Residents who fall under the 1A group have not yet been vaccinated, and those in group 1B and 1C can pre-register online at harfordcountyhealth.com/harfordcovidvax/.

Those interested in receiving the vaccine at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center or Harford Memorial Hospital should register at www.umuch.org/GetTheVaccine, Mallonee said.

Harford County government will also be assisting in reaching people in the priority groups who might not have access to a computer or the internet by making robocalls, Mraz said.

Ring Factory Elementary School Nurse Kim Burroughs prepares to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to a person during the first responder and health care provider COVID-19 vaccination at Patterson Mill High School Monday January 4, 2021.
Ring Factory Elementary School Nurse Kim Burroughs prepares to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to a person during the first responder and health care provider COVID-19 vaccination at Patterson Mill High School Monday January 4, 2021. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

School nurses integral to vaccine efforts

Nurses from Harford County Public Schools have been assisting the Health Department in the efforts to administer the vaccine and have been an integral part of the vaccine rollout, Mraz said.

Mary Nasuta, supervisor of health services for HCPS, said more than 50 school nurse have been assisting with the Health Department’s vaccine clinics, calling it a good way to give back to the community. It’s also given nurses an opportunity to interact with some people that haven’t seen as much during the pandemic.

“We’ve been able to see our EMS providers who come to our schools when we have problems and vaccinate them, and then our pediatricians ... and all those providers, and some of them our own providers,” she said. “And everybody is very appreciative here, of course.”

School nurses will continue to work the vaccination clinics so long as school buildings are closed, Nasuta said, although she hopes the vaccine will lead to a return soon. She was excited that educators were recently moved up the priority list in the state. They are part of the 1B group and will soon begin receiving their shots.

“All the people who work in schools are essential workers,” Nasuta said. “I think it was a really wise move to prioritize them so we can get our kids back to school. It’s one measure to get us closer.”

Like the rest of the community, she said there is a mix of excitement about the vaccine among educators, but also some worry about being an early adopter. Nasuta, who took the vaccine herself in order to become a vaccinator, said she had no adverse effects.

“Quite honestly, it’s a safe vaccine, one that I took, and I’m really excited about this opportunity about getting back to more normalcy once we can get vaccines more widely delivered,” she said. “I do hear skepticism, I take my time to try and answer questions they may have, but I’m hearing more about people asking ‘when?’”

Volunteers answer the call

At last week’s Harford County Council meeting, new County Health Officer Dr. David Bishai asked for volunteers to help get people registered for the vaccine.

Mraz said the Health Department was “blown away” by the number of volunteers who expressed an interest in helping.

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About 170 registered and participated in the first volunteer call Monday to talk logistics, outreach, vaccinating and planning.

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“We’re hoping that by the help of the volunteers, we can make strides in kicking COVID out of Harford County and be able to hug our loved ones again,” Mraz said. “Most importantly, we’re hoping to get the hard to reach populations and the vulnerable populations pre-registered for their vaccine.”

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