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Harford County’s first responders and health care workers to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine next week

Harford County’s first responders and health care providers will receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine during the first full week of 2021.

Vaccine clinics will take place Jan. 4 to 8 at Patterson Mill High School in Bel Air, according to Marcy Austin, the acting county health officer. The Harford County Health Department is charged with administering the vaccine.

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Links were sent to heads of agencies for first responders and health care workers for staff to register and, as of Tuesday morning, the schedule was full.

“We are in the process of scheduling more clinics in January as additional doses of the vaccine are delivered to the health department,” Austin said via email.

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A closed COVID-19 vaccination clinic for vaccinators and other vaccination clinic staff is planned for Wednesday.

Maryland health departments were expected to receive 33,100 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine this week, according to Gov. Larry Hogan’s office. The state’s total allotment from the federal government through this week will include 273,875 total doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Each local health department was guaranteed to receive a minimum of 600 doses, with the rest allocated based on the jurisdiction’s population. Harford is the eighth-most populous of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City.

It’s unclear exactly how many doses the Harford Health Department received, but Austin said it had received enough vaccines to cover the closed clinic and the scheduled clinics next week.

The doses are to be prioritized for career and volunteer first responders, including EMS, firefighters and law enforcement personnel who are at increased risk of exposure to the virus, according to the governor’s office.

Some first responders are opting not to receive the vaccine. Rich Gardiner, a spokesperson for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said 469 people from the organization’s member companies expressed interest in obtaining the vaccine. That’s about a third of its roughly 1,500 total members.

Not all of the 469 interested in receiving vaccine with get their first dose this week. Each member company was asked to cull the overall interest list down, “using whatever ranking methodology it felt to be fair and equitable,” Gardiner said, then sent its first 10 names to the association, which coordinated with the Health Department to get 128 people appointments to get vaccinated in the first week.

New names will be sent as more doses of the vaccine become available using the same procedure, Gardiner said.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s largest law enforcement agency, is not requiring that its deputies be vaccinated, according to Cristie Hopkins, a spokesperson for the office.

“We have already surveyed all our personnel and those who have expressed an interest in participating in the initial round of vaccines have begun scheduling on dates and times provided to the Office by the Health Department,” she said. “At this time, we have every indication that those wanting to be vaccinated will be able to do so.”

Among 620 sheriff’s office employees surveyed, 215 indicated they wanted to receive the vaccine, Hopkins said.

Maryland is in Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which is focused on front line health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and first responders.

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In the Baltimore Metropolitan Area, which includes Harford and five other jurisdictions, approximately 16,493 people, or roughly 0.6% of the region’s population, have been vaccinated, according to data provided through the state’s dashboard. The state does not offer a county-by-county breakdown.

Front-line workers at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health’s two hospitals in Harford began receiving vaccines Dec. 16. The health system has received additional supplies of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccine since and additional deliveries from the Maryland Department of Health are expected in the coming weeks, Christina Cottrell, a spokesperson for Upper Chesapeake Health, said Tuesday.

As of Monday, UCH had held 14 vaccination clinics for hospital team members and will continue scheduling clinics for Phase 1A staff into the New Year, followed by staff in the additional phases, as vaccine supply is made available, Cottrell said.

Nursing home residents and staff around the state began vaccinating residents and staff last week, with doses provided through CVS and Walgreens.

Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan will include residents considered to be at high-risk of complications from COVID-19, such as organ transplant recipients, those with serious heart conditions and those with type 2 diabetes.

Adults over the age of 65 and critical workers such as teachers and grocery store employees, will be part of Phase 2.

The general population will be vaccinated during Phase 3.

As of Tuesday, 150 people have died of COVID-19 related illness in Harford County, according to data provided by the Maryland Department of Health. There have been 17 deaths since Tuesday and 460 new cases reported, bringing Harford’s total confirmed cases to 8,371.

The daily positivity rate was 7.59% on Tuesday and the seven-day moving average case rate was 27.8 per 100,000.

Both key metrics are down from about two weeks ago, when the positivity rate was 8.4% on Dec. 15 and the average case rate was 37.64 on Dec. 16. However, both are still trending above the 5% and 15 cases per 100,000 baselines the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider safe to lessen restrictions, including Harford County Public Schools’ plan to have students return.

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