By Rachel Logan
When Amitava Banerjee arrived at Six Flags America on March 16, he was confused. He had signed up to get his first COVID-19 vaccine dose at the closest mass vaccination site, but the text confirmation didn’t mention that the site was drive-through only. He had arrived by Uber but approached the clinic on foot, and officials turned him away.
Banerjee, an international grad assistant at the University of Maryland (UMD), spent 20 minutes messaging Uber drivers. Several declined to give him a ride, but one kindly agreed to take Banerjee through the clinic, wait with him as nurses monitored for a reaction and drive him back to the Metro — all for a discount price.
One Berwyn Heights resident spent weeks searching, without luck, for an appointment for her daughter, who has a developmental disability and became eligible for vaccination in mid-January under Phase 1B. The resident and her husband are both over 65 and qualified under Phase 1C. She said they had no trouble finding appointments for themselves, but few providers specified disability as an eligibility status for vaccination.
Officials from the Arc of Prince George’s County provided vaccinations for all three on March 10. The Arc is a service organization serving individuals with disabilities and provides support from birth to adulthood, according to Rob Malone.
Malone, executive director of the Arc, said that the state offered the organization enough doses to fully vaccinate 1,500 people. Malone said that 60% of those who registered for vaccinations with the Arc are county residents, and 60% are Black. He suggested that some people may be overwhelmed by the possibly crowded or overstimulating circumstances at some vaccination sites.
“I think the target population that we got to cover was a group [that needed support],” said Malone. He noted that once the Arc finishes their last round of appointments, they “will retire this location … and hand the baton to other agencies who might want to host something like this.”
Gov. Larry Hogan lifted some restrictions March 12, giving the state’s counties the option to open many businesses to 100% capacity, but with social distancing and masking restrictions in effect. Due to the rate of positive cases in Prince George’s County, though, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has kept eateries, shops, gyms and churches at 50% capacity, still an increase over the previous 35% limit.
According to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control on April 8, approximately 22.5% of Marylanders had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
All Marylanders 16 and older became eligible on April 12 to receive shots from any vaccination provider in the state. Individuals who are 16 or 17 years old are eligible to receive only the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only vaccine that has been tested and approved for this age group.
The exponential increase in demand for vaccinations has been met with strong efforts to increase availability and simplify the registration process to be vaccinated at state and county sites.
A number of mass vaccination sites are open across the state, including the Six Flags center and similar sites in Baltimore, at the Montgomery College Germantown campus, on the Eastern Shore, in Southern Maryland and in Hagerstown. A FEMA-managed site opened on April 7 at the Greenbelt Metro station, the first such site to open in the country. Sites will also be opening in Frederick, Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties in the coming weeks. Information about the mass vaccination sites can be found at the state’s website (https://coronavirus.maryland.gov).
Marylanders can preregister for appointments at the state-run sites at onestop.md.gov/preregistration. Preregistered individuals are contacted by email, text or phone to schedule appointments as openings become available. The number of available appointments is based on vaccine allocations from the federal government.
All Marylanders 16 or older can also schedule vaccination appointments online with private providers, including participating pharmacies, medical clinics and hospitals. The state-run website (coronavirus.maryland.gov) has a search tool that lists providers and includes links to each provider’s online appointment scheduling forms. Facebook hosts a group, Maryland Vaccine Hunters, which offers a wealth of information and resources to help people schedule vaccination appointments, as well. The Facebook group relies on crowdsourcing to post current information about appointments that open up throughout the state. (To locate and then join this group, type “Maryland Vaccine Hunters” into the Facebook search bar.)
The University of Maryland has recently received allocations of about 2,000 vaccine doses, total. Vaccinations were first offered to university staff who work on campus on a daily basis, including staff who conduct COVID-19 tests. Doses were then offered to students by appointment only. “You really have some tight windows, and you need to make sure you’re deploying all of it,” said Ken Ulman, member of the board of directors at the College Park City-University Partnership. The university will receive additional doses of vaccine in the coming weeks to ensure that individuals who have received a first dose will also receive a second.
We all can step up and do our part to protect ourselves, our friends and families, and our greater community — and the vaccines are safe, highly effective and free. Thousands of local, state and federal officials are promoting vaccinations, including Maryland Sen. Jim Rosapepe, whose message is loud and clear:
“Talk to your friends, talk to your family … what we’ve seen is more people seeing their friends get vaccinated and doing fine — it’s encouraging [countless other] people to get vaccinated.,”