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Health care workers at Howard County General Hospital receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Front-line health care workers at Howard County General Hospital received their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Johns Hopkins Medicine announced.

“This is one of the great moments in medical and public health history,” said Dr. Gabor Kelen, director of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “A catastrophic pandemic that has ripped through society everywhere in the world will be conquered soon by one of the greatest scientific feats ever. This is the first sense of real hope that we’ve enjoyed in nearly 10 months. People are crying with relief when they get their first shot — that may mean this long nightmare is about to be over.”

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Howard County General is a member of the Johns Hopkins Medicine system, which is in the process of allocating doses of the vaccine throughout its different hospitals across the region. In total, 75 front-line health care workers at Howard County General, which is the only hospital in the county, received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday.

A front-line health care worker at Howard County General Hospital receives her first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
A front-line health care worker at Howard County General Hospital receives her first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. (Keith Weller/Photo courtesy of Keith Weller, Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Other medical systems, like the University of Maryland Medical System and Upper Chesapeake Health, have also begun distributing the vaccine this week.

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“It is great news that the vaccine has arrived in Howard County,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball wrote in a statement. “Howard County General Hospital workers have been our front-line heroes throughout this pandemic, and it is important for them to receive this vaccine first and as quickly as possible.”

The University of Maryland system received its first shipment of the vaccine Monday and distributed it to its 13 hospitals, including the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore — the first hospital in the state to report receiving Pfizer’s vaccine. The health system will continue to vaccinate its front-line health care workers as more vaccines become available, according to a news release.

The race for a vaccine, spearheaded by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, started in the early stages of the pandemic. With multiple companies working on different types of vaccines, the first to be distributed is Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11.

“The vaccine is the only way we’re going to stop this without millions dying of natural infection lasting several years, destroying normal society life and commerce,” Kelen said. “Apart from personal protection, it’s a civic duty to play a role in ending the pandemic and not allowing others to die or have lifelong serious problems should they survive.”

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In total, about two dozen hospitals in Maryland are slated to receive about 50,700 doses of the first round of Pfizer’s vaccine. If Moderna’s vaccine is approved by the FDA this week, another 104,300 doses will be shipped next week.

Everyone vaccinated will need a second dose.

“The vaccine arrival is a holiday gift that will begin a path towards the eradication of this virus,” said Howard County Health Officer Maura Rossman. “Once vaccine becomes more broadly available, it is extremely important that our residents be vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and the entire community.”

A front-line health care worker at Howard County General Hospital receives his first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
A front-line health care worker at Howard County General Hospital receives his first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Keith Weller, Johns Hopkins Medicine)

The vaccine arrived in Howard County and many other jurisdictions across the state and country as coronavirus numbers are at dangerous levels. Health metrics in Howard County have been worse in November and December than in any two-month stretch since the spring.

Howard County also reached an unwelcome milestone Friday, recording its 10,000th case of COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 10,046 Howard countians have tested positive for the virus, and 177 have died.

As of Friday’s reporting by the Maryland Department of Health, the county’s seven-day rolling new-case rate is at 27.72 per 100,000 residents and the weekly average positivity rate is 5.69%.

The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined baselines of 5% weekly positivity and 15 cases per 100,000 as when transmission is low enough to loosen restrictions.

While the numbers are concerning, they’re better than they were a week ago. Last week, the county saw a small post-Thanksgiving surge in cases, with eight of 10 days reporting more than 100 new cases between Dec. 3 and 12. The weekly new case-rate reached its peak for the pandemic at 37.9 per 100,000 on Dec. 9.

Baltimore Sun Media editor S. Wayne Carter Jr. and Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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