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Harford to begin focusing on second doses of COVID-19 vaccinations in February; first doses dependent on supply

Nurse Susan Gardner-Seitz, left, administers the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine to a Harford County Public Schools teacher during the vaccination clinic at Patterson Mill Middle / High School Jan. 27. Harford Health Department officials said administering second doses of the coronavirus vaccine would be its priority in February.
Nurse Susan Gardner-Seitz, left, administers the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine to a Harford County Public Schools teacher during the vaccination clinic at Patterson Mill Middle / High School Jan. 27. Harford Health Department officials said administering second doses of the coronavirus vaccine would be its priority in February. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Harford County health officials signaled that administering second doses of the coronavirus vaccine would be a priority in February, with first-dose appointments still being scheduled as dictated by the supply of vaccines.

Speaking before the Harford County Council Tuesday, County Health Officer David Bishai said 24,069 county residents have been vaccinated in total, and about 8,563 got their first doses from the county health department in January. The biggest hurdle to the vaccination effort are the number of doses the department is allocated. It has the capacity to deliver more, Bishai said, but is limited by the supply of vaccines.

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“If we get more first doses from the federal government, we will absolutely deliver them,” he said. “We just do not have the doses coming from the federal government to increase our first-dose supply.”

Bishai also noted slow improvements in the county’s positivity and average new case rate; 6.81% and 24.72 cases per 100,000, respectively, on Wednesday. Those figures represent a slight decline from December’s peak.

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February will be dedicated to mostly second-dose vaccinations, Deputy Health Officer Marcy Austin said, but the health department will continue scheduling first doses as they are made available.

Bishai said number of people pre-registered to receive the vaccine far outstrips the supply; pre-registrations with the health department for the vaccine number 32,000 people.

The department is receiving higher quantities of the second dose, Austin said, but the state did not give an indication of how many second doses would be sent to the county the last time the department was given notice of its weekly dose allocation last Friday, Jan. 29.

“It is disheartening to both citizens and to us that we cannot move more quickly on this mass vaccination effort as we are trained to do so,” Austin said.

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The health department is advocating for larger shipments of the vaccine, as is County Council President Patrick Vincenti, who said he has called U.S. Reps. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger and Andy Harris, who represent Harford in Congress, along with the governor’s office to ask about vaccine delivery to the county. The process, he said, is frustrating.

“The biggest frustration that we have is the delivery of vaccines to Harford County; it is holding everything back,” Vincenti said. “The governor said he wanted schools to start in-person by March 1; the county executive wants to open up indoor [parks and recreation] for indoor activities by March 1.”

Because some students will be returning to school on March 1, the health department has also been looking for alternate vaccination sites to replace its Patterson Mill clinic, Austin said.

Bishai also reported that there were five coronavirus hotspots in ZIP codes corresponding to Darlington, Churchville, Havre de Grace, Kingsville and Jarrettsville.

The average chance of a Harford resident getting COVID-19, according to countywide metrics, was about 95 in 1,000, Bishai said, but in some of those hotspot areas, the chance was almost double the average.

The health department is working to figure out why those areas were seeing higher rates of transmission.

“We are doing our best with contact tracing to try to understand why those Zip codes are having a higher level of COVID-19 transfer,” Bishai said. “Those rates have been high in those Zip codes for the last two weeks.”

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