- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2021

About 18% of the nearly 3.6 million people eligible for coronavirus vaccinations in Maryland, Virginia and the District have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, data from regional health departments show.

As of Tuesday, health officials had administered shots to 648,098 residents in the three jurisdictions, which have a total combined population of about 15.27 million people.

The District is leading in the regional vaccination effort, having administered 41,053 doses (66%) of the 62,200 shots it has received from the federal government. Maryland has distributed 265,657 doses (48%) of the 551,700 it has received, and Virginia has administered 341,388 doses (36%) of the 943,400 it has received.

A total of 304,562 people in Virginia have received at least one dose, and 36,826 have received both doses of the two-shot vaccines produced by drugmakers Pfizer or Moderna.

All three jurisdictions are carrying out Phase 1B of their vaccination plans, allowing more groups of people to be vaccinated.

Next week, the District will start vaccinating in-person teachers and support staff at D.C. public schools and charter schools. 

The D.C. Health Department opened up vaccinations for all health care workers and residents aged 65 and older on Monday, and the 1,436 appointments that opened were all booked.

On Saturday, the District announced that 4,309 vaccination appointments were open to eligible residents in Wards 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8 — the five wards with the fewest number of residents with appointments as of last week.

Under Phase 1B, residents and staff of facilities such as group homes and homeless shelters, correctional officers and nonhealth care staff supporting vaccination clinics are allowed to get vaccinated. The second tier of Phase 1B includes law enforcement and public safety staff, K-12 school staff, child care facility employees and grocery workers.

The District first began vaccinating long-term care residents, health care workers, and fire and EMS staff last month.

Starting this week, Marylanders aged 75 and older, those living in group facilities, education staff and child care providers and government workers became eligible to get shots as the state moved to its next phase.

Beginning Monday, the state will move into Phase 1C, which covers adults aged 65-74, health and safety workers not covered in Phase 1A and essential workers in lab services, food/agriculture production, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transit and grocery stores.

Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state would make 50,000 doses available to health facilities focused on the elderly as the state expanded eligibility for all residents 65 and older.

“The biggest bottleneck in the allocation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is not enough is coming into the state from the federal government. Right now, the federal government is only giving us 10,000 doses a day for the 1.5 million people who are currently eligible,” said Charles Gischlar, spokesman for Maryland Department of Health.

Bob Atlas, president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said its clinics are completely booked for vaccinations.

“About half of all vaccine doses coming to Maryland have been directed elsewhere to cover long-term care facility staff and residents, local health departments, corrections facilities, and community health centers,” Mr. Atlas said. “The Maryland Department of Health is adding more sites now that Phase 1B has begun. Though, supplies remain limited — not just in Maryland, but nationwide — due to production constraints.”

He added that hospitals in Maryland have given more than 115,000 people their first shots while quite a few people also have received their second “booster” shots.

Maryland officials also are launching a pilot program with Walmart and Giant stores on Jan. 25 to distribute vaccines at their pharmacies and have issued a new allowance for out-of-state health practitioners to administer vaccines at its borders.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam last week said he is looking to have the entire state move to Phase 1B by the end of the month. The phase, which includes frontline essential workers, people living in group settings and those 75 years old or older, has expanded to cover people 65 and older or those aged 16 to 64 with an underlying medical condition or disability.

Since there is not a “sufficient supply” to vaccinate everyone in Phase 1B at the same time, the Virginia Department of Health said health districts are prioritizing frontline workers in the following order: 1. Police, fire and hazmat; 2. Corrections and homeless shelter workers; 3. Child care/preK-12 teachers/staff; 4. Food and agriculture, including veterinarians; 5. Manufacturing; 6. Grocery store workers; 7. Public transit workers; 8. USPS and private mail carriers; 9. Officials essential for continuity of government such as judges.

The goal is to eventually ramp up vaccine administration to 25,000 doses daily statewide as soon as possible, Mr. Northam said during his State of the Commonwealth address last Wednesday. However, 50,000 vaccine doses would have to be administered daily throughout the state to reach herd immunity in a timely manner, according to Dr. Danny Avula, head of Virginia’s coronavirus vaccination program.

“Obstacles the commonwealth are facing include the limited supply of vaccines from the federal government, and data reporting. We are working to address the latter issue in a variety of ways,” said Health Department spokeswoman Erin Beard.

Julian Walker, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association spokesman, said hospitals have administered nearly 176,000 doses as of last week and that he expects them to eclipse 200,000 doses this week. He said hospitals are starting to partner up with community organizations for mass vaccination campaigns, pointing to the collaboration between Valley Health and Shenandoah University in Winchester.

“The vaccination program is contingent upon a steady, reliable supply of doses. If there are limits on what the Commonwealth is being sent or if the allocation is limited, then that’s naturally going to limit the number of doses that can be administered because it’s a simple demand-and-supply question,” Mr. Walker said. “I would say that’s one of the challenges that the Commonwealth and its healthcare providers including hospitals continue to contend with.”

Virginia is receiving initial shipments of about 110,000 vaccine doses each week, and Mr. Northam said he expects the state to start receiving more soon.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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