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Johns Hopkins Medicine to vaccinate 500 additional Howard County school system staff against COVID-19

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano announced Wednesday the system is receiving 500 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The doses are on top of the 1,000 doses to be administered Thursday and Friday that will be given to the school system by the Howard County Health Department.

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Martirano announced the additional doses of the vaccine in an email to staff Wednesday morning. He said the news is a “glimmer of hope” ahead of the school system’s hybrid learning start on March 1.

“This is wonderful news,” he wrote in the email.

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Martirano said the vaccines from the health department “should cover” all school system staff in the first two tiers of the district’s four-tier system within Phase 1B of the county’s plan. The first two tiers include school nurses, health assistants, custodians, food and nutrition staff, and other staff currently working in person.

The additional 500 doses from Johns Hopkins are expected to be the first given to educators in the third tier, which is for all school-based staff who are returning for hybrid learning. The last tier includes nonschool-based staff.

Phase 1B also includes residents ages 75 or older, child care professionals, private school educators, those living in congregate living facilities and adults with developmental disabilities. People between the age of 65 and 74 in Phase 1C are also eligible to preregister for the vaccine.

“I know the pace of vaccine distribution has been frustrating, however, we have still made significant strides forward since late December, when we had no approved vaccines,” Martirano wrote. “It has only been a few weeks and I am encouraged by the announcements by the federal government about increases in state allocations as well as news of additional vaccines that may be moving forward in the approval process.”

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Educators in the third tier received emails Wednesday with an opportunity to sign up for the 500 available doses being administered by Johns Hopkins, and slots were allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

School system spokesperson Brian Bassett said Wednesday that the school system dealt directly with Johns Hopkins Medicine to receive the additional doses. Other Maryland school systems have similar partnerships, such as Baltimore City, which is having 500 educators vaccinated a week by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Earlier this week, Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman expressed concern about the amount of vaccine the county was set to receive from the state this week. Rossman said the county’s health department was allotted 2,000 vaccines this week, down 66% percent from the previous week.

As vaccine distribution has steadily increased across the country, the Maryland Department of Health broadened the distribution of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to additional providers, including hospitals, retail pharmacies and large group practices like Kaiser Permanente. That means more doses overall for Howard countians but fewer doses for county health departments to distribute.

“When vaccines are being diverted to private-sector providers without an overarching strategy on prioritization or a clear picture of supply or distribution within our county, it becomes confusing for residents,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said Monday. “In Howard County, we created an operational infrastructure to support an increase and level number of doses. However, now that vaccine is going to private providers, less vaccine is coming directly to our [health department], creating confusion among our residents at a time when expectations related to vaccine supply are increasing.”

The race to get school system staff vaccinated was exacerbated in late January when the Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved a hybrid model with a phased-in reopening to begin March 1 and end April 12. The vote came less than a week after a surprise announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan that he would explore consequences for school systems that didn’t get students back in classrooms by March 1.

However, during a reopening school board work session, Rossman said it would be “impossible” for her to guarantee that all school system staff could receive both doses of the vaccine by March 1 — something many educators as well as the president of the county’s teachers union want.

Then on Jan. 28 during a news conference, Martirano said that while he wants all of the approximately 10,000 school system staff to be vaccinated before returning, the current supply of vaccines will make that goal unlikely. He said educators receiving the vaccine before returning is not a “prerequisite” for a hybrid return. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky issued the same sentiment Wednesday during a briefing.

“Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools,” Walensky said.

As of Wednesday, 36,691 vaccines have been administered in Howard County, according to the Maryland Department of Health. That figure includes 30,157 first doses and 6,534 second doses.

Howard County residents who need help preregistering can email HoCovaccine@howardcountymd.gov or call 410-313-6284.

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