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Montgomery County health officer on COVID vaccine: Current distribution pace would take nearly 2 years to vaccinate entire county

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said at the current pace, it would take nearly two years to vaccinate the entire county.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — As Maryland opens up vaccines to phase 1C Monday, Montgomery County's health officer says a supply shortage is causing them to restrict doses to fewer groups.

Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles points to a supply shortage as the cause of the backlog. He said on average the county has been receiving about 7,000 doses a week, adding up to a little more than 30,000 doses. Dr. Gayles estimates that the county has 60,000 to 70,000 people in category 1A and approximately 180,000 people who are over 65.

“On the surface it looks like, the state’s moved forward, why isn’t Montgomery County moving forward?" he said. "The numbers simply don’t add up, and the concern for us is why we attempted to put in a prioritization schematic to alleviate a situation where we had folks opening up more broadly … where those who are most vulnerable [end up getting] locked out of the system.”

He said they have requested 20,000 doses for the last few weeks. This week, Dr. Gayles said the county is slated to receive 5,500.

“Let’s say we get to a 10,000-dose a week average," Dr. Gayles said. "If we stayed at that current clip to get everyone covered, that’s going to be over 100 weeks, just shy of two years, and so something has to change.”

The state's group 1C includes adults aged 65 and older, public 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.

The news brings hope for some grocery workers who have braved the pandemic every day.

"Everyone's been affected by this thing. Grocery workers are no different," a grocery worker in Silver Spring and union shop steward, Jeffrey Reid. "We got to get up and try to come here every day and try to pay our bills and also try to be safe and social distance ourselves and wash our hands and try not to take this back to our loved ones.”

Reid will have to wait for now, however. Montgomery County has only recently opened up vaccine preregistration for adults 75 and older.

RELATED: Nurse who vaccinated Kamala Harris working to solve vaccine disparities in DC

Maryland state data shows that as of Sunday, a little more than half of the doses distributed have been administered so far — to about 5% of the population.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Dr. Gayles disagree on the cause of the administration backlog. In a press conference Thursday, the governor pointed to the local health departments, hospitals, clinics, etc. as the bottleneck.

“It’s not that we’re not getting the vaccines out or we’re not getting enough supply," Gov. Hogan said. "It’s those people that we’re getting them out to are falling short, and that’s why we’re trying to help them pick up the pace.”

Dr. Gayles calls that assertion "completely inaccurate."

"The reason why we have implemented a prioritization system, to emphasize again, is the fact that there is an inadequate supply," he said.

Dr. Gayles said part of the problem is a lack of advance notice on the county's weekly vaccine delivery, which has vacillated between 4,200 and 8,600 doses so far.

“We literally don’t know how many doses we’re getting the following week until the weekend," he said. "I think that’s crazy.”

He said he hopes the Biden Administration's plan improves communication with and distribution to states and their localities. However, until the changes trickle down, he said Montgomery County will stick to its prioritization tiers to be as fair and equitable as possible.

“Yes, it’s here, it’s coming, but please be patient," Dr. Gayles said.

He also encourages everyone to continue taking COVID safety precautions as they wait for the vaccine — and even after they receive it.

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