Gayles: Counties Now Required to Follow State Vaccine Eligibility Phasing

The state issued a memo Monday that, effective immediately, directs entities providing COVID-19 vaccines to follow the state’s phasing for eligibility, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during a council meeting Tuesday.

County health departments are included within those providers. Maryland moved to vaccination Phase 2 (2A) Tuesday, expanding eligibility to all residents ages 60+. Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is vaccinating residents ages 65+ through Priority Phase 1B, Tier 1 and Priority Phase 1C, Tier 1, as well as other groups. Gayles said residents ages 60-65 can now pre-register for a vaccine appointment through the county. He clarified eligibility does not guarantee an immediate appointment.

On March 30, Maryland state vaccine eligibility will open to all residents ages 16+ with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe COVID-19. Gayles said the county will provide information about what types of documentation or attestation will be required from those residents in order to get a vaccine.

Gayles and Emergency Management Director Dr. Earl Stoddard said the state did not explain the reason behind the new memo from Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader. Stoddard said it leaves the county in a position of having to explain a decision it did not make.

“It looks like we’re just pointing fingers at the state, but if we’re not given an explanation for what the rationale for the change is, it makes it very hard for us to explain what the rationale for the change is other than saying the state told us we had to do it so we did it,” he said.

“I hate to say it, but we’ve kind of gotten used to not getting information, which, again, you should never get used to that kind of thing. But it’s now a surprise when we get any sort of information or intel as opposed to an expectation. And that’s sort of an unfortunate thing with the way the relationship is right now.”

DHHS Director Dr. Raymond Crowel said communications are so broad in the county that every change has to be conveyed to many different channels.

“It sends a vibration through the whole system of having to write and rewrite things that are produced for us and get them out to community members and to our community partners who share the word, and there are always still questions– people don’t hear it the first couple of times you say it,” Crowel said.

Tuesday morning’s council meeting took place prior to Gov. Larry Hogan’s afternoon press conference, where he announced new mass vaccination sites, including one at Montgomery College Germantown. During Tuesday’s meeting, Stoddard once again said county leaders did not know what Hogan would say during the presser; county elected officials have discussed on an ongoing basis the lack of communication between the county and state throughout the pandemic.

“It’s sort of like a choose your own adventure, we have alternate pathways that we can go depending on what the governor says or doesn’t say. It’s more work because we have to do scenario-based planning for a press announcement… it’s unfortunate,” Stoddard said.

Gayles said it speaks to missed opportunities for the county and state to plan and work together.

“Again, we’re excited to potentially, as you discussed, to be able to offer the vaccine to more people, but we unfortunately have become used to this circle of communication,” Gayles said. He said DHHS’ vaccine allotment from the state increased this week to 8,000 doses, up from 6,500 last week.

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