The situation underscored the difficulty that counties and health departments have in balancing the ballooning eligibility pools while not having enough vaccine to go around. Localities began the week pleading for more doses to meet the demand.
Montgomery County on Monday began allowing residents 75 and older to register for vaccine appointments, said Health Officer Travis Gayles, while officials petitioned Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for more vaccinations from the state.
As more people slowly get vaccinated, infection rates have continued to rise.
The first case of the U.K. variant of the coronavirus was discovered in a Northern Virginia resident who has not recently traveled, the state announced Monday, hours after Moderna said its vaccine offers protection against the variant. The development came five days after Maryland confirmed its first two cases of the variant, which officials say is more contagious but not necessarily more deadly than the original strain.
In Prince George’s, Alsobrooks said Monday that health officials are canceling vaccine appointments made by people who do not live or work in the county. She said she made the decision after hearing from county residents in priority groups 1A and 1B who were unable to get appointments, then seeing how many had been filled by people who live outside the hard-hit jurisdiction.
“We share those concerns,” she said at a news conference. “I apologize … we had to ensure that equity occurred in terms of the delivery of the vaccine in our community.”
Alsobrooks said the canceled appointments are being filled by seniors who live in the county who have preregistered and others who work in the county and fall into the 1A and 1B categories. She said she understood there would be disappointment from those who had appointments canceled, but said the priority of health officials has to be those in Prince George’s, which leads the state in infections.
Those who received their first dose of the vaccine in the county will be able to receive their second dose, Alsobrooks said, even if they are not residents. Under the new guidelines, people must bring proof of residency or information that shows they work in Prince George’s to make their vaccine appointment.
Alsobrooks encouraged residents who fall into the 1C category — which includes those 65 and older — to fill out registration paperwork, but she said it could be weeks before they begin receiving vaccines.
She said the county’s current focus is vaccinating the 95,000 people in Prince George’s who fall into the 1B category. Teachers and administrators are included in that category and will begin receiving vaccines Saturday, she said.
Alsobrooks also announced Monday that indoor dining will be allowed to resume beginning Friday at 25 percent capacity. She said health officials decided to end the ban because of improved metrics, including a positivity rate below 10 percent.
In Montgomery County, people 75 and older who filled out the county’s preregistration form should expect to receive an email from the county this week inviting them to set up an appointment, Gayles said.
The county is restricting vaccine eligibility to those at least 75 years old, health care workers and first responders. Teachers, child-care providers and other groups under the state’s 1B categorization still have to wait, Gayles said. He urged members of the public to remain patient.
“We respect that other counties are moving quicker at their own pace, [but] we’re moving as fast as we can with the doses we’ve received,” he said.
The county government has received 31,200 vaccine doses, which is not enough to cover the 60,000 people in group 1A, much less the 75,000 others in group 1B, officials have said. These allocations do not include what has been given to the county’s hospitals and nursing homes.
In a news conference Monday, county lawmakers called on the Hogan administration to provide more vaccine doses to Montgomery, the state’s most populous jurisdiction.
Council president Tom Hucker (D-District 5) said state officials caused confusion and panic among Montgomery residents by announcing that the state will expand eligibility to priority group 1C this week. “We just don’t have the doses to do that,” he said of the county.
Montgomery held a town hall on vaccine distribution last week, and despite multiple requests, the state health department did not send a representative, Hucker said. The county has sought to get state officials to appear before the county to discuss oversight and regulation of skilled nursing facilities, said council vice president Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large).
As vaccine supply lags demand, local governments in Maryland in charge of distributing it have enacted stricter rules than the state about who can receive it. Frederick County announced Monday it would not broaden access to the vaccine yet, saying it was still focused on inoculating health care workers and people 75 and older.
The decisions at the local level leave scores of people eligible to receive the vaccine unable to make appointments, including some people in priority groups 1B and all of 1C — a population that covers teachers, child-care workers and people age 65 to 74.
Maryland has received 667,275 doses, but, as of Monday, roughly 2.1 million are eligible to get a shot. Statewide, 330,709 first doses have been administered, and 42,228 people are fully vaccinated.
In Virginia, 458,472 first doses have been administered, and 64,381 people are fully vaccinated. The state has distributed about 1.1 million doses.
Of the 68,750 vaccines distributed in the District, 51,421 have been administered.
The Virginia Department of Health on Friday started redirecting vaccines away from hospitals, prompting Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington to cancel 10,000 appointments for first doses. Arlington County will reschedule those appointments, but appointments for second doses will not change, the hospital said in a statement Saturday.
Erin Cox contributed to this report.