Pictured are Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses from the initial 100 delivered to Montgomery County officials on Dec. 23. Credit: Photo from Montgomery County

This story was updated at 8:07 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2021, to include details from Gov. Larry Hogan’s press conference Thursday afternoon.

As residents in Montgomery County push for a quicker COVID-19 vaccination rollout, county officials are again pressing the state to boost the local supply.

County officials say they are using up every available vaccine dose the state provides. More doses would let the county start vaccination clinics on weekends, too, instead of just weekdays, officials said.

A dispute between state and county officials has revolved this week around the timing of when the county requested a particular shipment of vaccine doses and how many it requested for that shipment.

During a media briefing on Thursday afternoon, Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer, said the county requested 10,000 to 15,000 doses for this week’s shipment, but only received 6,700 from the state — a decrease from last week’s shipment of 8,600 doses.

The county can administer 2,500 to 3,500 doses a day, according to Bridgers.

The request for 10,000 to 15,000 doses was made “for the next week” in an email on Friday, Jan. 8, from the county’s immunization program manager to two state health department officials.

Mike Ricci, a spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan, told Bethesda Beat in an email on Tuesday afternoon that the county’s request for 10,000 to 15,000 doses will be filled next week instead of this current week. For the current week, the county sought 5,000 to 10,000 doses, according to Ricci.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, disputed that interpretation. He said during Thursday’s briefing that the email included the dates of the county’s clinics, so he wasn’t sure why there was confusion.

“I don’t know how we can have ambiguity about when a request is for because it says the dates of the clinics that you’re going to use. You basically have to explain how you’re going to use the vaccine that you’re requesting,” he said. “I’m not sure what this is all about, per se.”

Actually, the Friday, Jan. 8, email with the request for 10,000 to 15,000 doses did not include dates for the clinics. The county’s immunization program manager wrote in the email that there would be three clinics five days a week at three different locations, but did not provide the dates.

A separate email the county sent to state officials on Monday — the start of the new week — is where the county’s clinic dates were listed. One of those dates was for the date the email was sent.

Copies of the emails were provided to Bethesda Beat by the county.

Stoddard said officials weren’t sure they were going to get 10,000 to 15,000 vaccines, but were “astounded” when they got fewer doses than the previous week.

“We’re hoping that the state can remedy that as we move forward. … We never want to see less doses the following week from what we provide the previous week,” he said.

Bridgers said the county requested 12,000 to 15,000 doses on Tuesday for next week and that each request is made on a Tuesday.

“We follow up based on our planned projections and our scheduling for the following week,” he said.

It was not immediately clear on Thursday when the county made its first request for doses to use this week — particularly if it was made on Tuesday, as Bridgers said is the usual practice, or if the county’s first request was made on Friday.

The county usually learns on the weekend how many doses it will get on Tuesday, leaving only a few days to figure out how many clinics it should hold that week.

The county is currently providing vaccination clinics to qualified individuals during the week. But weekend clinics are expected to begin soon, County Executive Marc Elrich said during Thursday’s briefing.

The county is looking for organizations to help the county set up and manage weekend vaccination clinics, he said.

“We could bring more people on board and we could help the distribution of vaccines by having as many people as possible able to do this,” he said. “We’re looking and talking about ramping up.

“We know where we want to get. When the vaccines get here, we’re trying to make sure we’ve got partners in place that can then distribute the vaccines.”

If everybody requested what they needed, the state wouldn’t have enough vaccine doses, Elrich said.

Stoddard said the county has been more successful than other jurisdictions and organizations in administering the vaccine.

“The state has a vested interest in getting our residents vaccinated and should be providing more vaccine to the people who have demonstrated that they can actually get the vaccine out,” he said. “I think that’s all we really have to say about this particular issue.”

State updates

Later on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan announced at a press conference that the state would be moving in to Phase 1B, beginning Monday.

A full list of the county’s vaccination phases and tiers can be found here.

Phase 1B prioritizes residents ages 75 and older, but county officials said at the briefing that they did not expect to move into the phase for two or three weeks based on current dose supplies and the number of people left to be vaccinated in Phase 1A.

During the press conference, Hogan shed more light on the state’s allocation of doses.

The federal government has allocated 549,300 doses to the state, which has distributed 547,300, or 99.6% .

Of that distribution, hospitals have received 320,200 doses — 112,175, or 35%, of which has been administered.

Local health departments have received 137,425 doses and administered 56,621, or 41.2%, of that allocation.

Meanwhile, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, which have a federal partnership to administer vaccines in nursing homes, have been provided 137,425 doses. CVS has completed 94% of the number of its clinics , while Walgreens has completed 76%.

The pharmacies will soon begin administering vaccines in assisted living and other long-term care facilities.

Hogan also announced a pilot program with Walmart and Giant to begin administering vaccines in their pharmacies, starting Jan. 25.

The program includes:
• 22 Giant locations statewide
• 3 Martin’s locations in Washington and Allegany counties
• 10 Walmart locations in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore

It was not immediately clear if any of the program locations would be in Montgomery County.

“When the state begins to receive higher allocations from the government, we will then be able to rapidly expand this program to include more and more pharmacies at many more locations across the state,” Hogan said.

The state launched an online portal Thursday that includes a list of vaccination sites and contact information for the vaccinators at covidvax.maryland.gov.

“Because of the limited supply of vaccines that we’re currently being allocated, these vaccinations will be done on an appointment-only basis at this time,” Hogan said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.