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Pre-registering for a COVID vaccination doesn't guarantee an immediate appointment

Short supply of vaccines creating delays
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Posted at 8:32 AM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 18:22:56-05

BALTIMORE, Md. — Vaccinating Maryland against COVID-19 is not happening as fast as doctors or people who want the vaccine would like.

As of February 4th, nearly 650,000 Marylanders have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, while thousands more wait their turn.

Leni Lebowitz is one of thousands of Marylanders waiting to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Lebowitz had cancer and her voice box removed. She doesn't breathe through her mouth, rather she breathes through an opening in her neck. Considering her age and medical history, she believes wearing a mask doesn't give her the protection that a vaccine would.

The 86-year-old said she signed up online with the Baltimore County Health Department as well as several hospitals but so far they only thing she's received is an email.

“You're on a list, meanwhile they've opened up to a new phase, and people that I know who are 65 and over have already gotten shots, and I'm sitting and waiting,” Lebowitz said.

Baltimore County Health Director Dr. Greg Branch pointed out a common problem facing health officials all across Maryland.

“Once you're on the registry, it's going to be a while before I get to you, only because I don't have the vaccine. If i had enough vaccine, then I would be able to 1,000 an hour, and I was doing this for eight hours a day, and getting to 8,000 people a day. Obviously, I could get through my registry very, very quickly,” Branch said.

Instead, health officials report a short supply of vaccines makes the process of Vaccinating Maryland move a lot slower than they would like.

Harford County Health Officer Dr.David Bishai said “I can vaccinate with my current supply 500 a day. And, you can easily do the math. If I have 20,000 in my registry and I can do 500 a day, that's looking like 40 days to finish the list of 20,000, which is going to grow.”

Cecil County Health Officer Lauren Levy said “we want to get them vaccinated as soon as possible, but we can only do what we can with the supply that we have.”

Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said “there's at least 80,000 persons registered, waiting for the next email to say come and get your vaccine. This week, I’m expecting 4500 doses. I’m sad, I’m frustrated for my community that we can't provide them the doses they so desperately want.”

Phase 1A vaccinations of frontline healthcare workers and first responders began in mid-December. Since that time, Maryland moved on to phase 1B, vaccinating seniors over the age of 75. In late January, the state entered phase 1C, vaccinating people 65 to 74. While the calendar advanced to vaccinating phase 1C, many county health departments have not.

Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer said “it's hard to manage those expectations, that people have. ‘Well I’m in 1C now, I should be able to get the shot.’ Well, I’ve not nearly made a dent in all the 75-plus, and the school teachers and everything else that I’m supposed to vaccinate in 1B.”

The Biden administration promises more doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are on the way. Now, a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is on the horizon.

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said “the federal government said they're going to increase it by about 16 percent, that's going to help pick up the pace.”

Until then, registering early won't up your chances of getting vaccinated sooner than later.

“Just being first in line in this situation, those rules, I was first in line, you know, I get the Black friday TV set, that's not the way this works. So, if you pre-register, it's really going to be random when your group is up,” Bishai said.

Scheduling those appointments is a challenge in itself for health officials.

“We want to get the vaccine in those arms that are the highest priority. What we essentially do, when we get vaccine that comes in on a Tuesday, we're scheduling everyone of those doses for the following week,” Singer said.

“It makes it hard to plan more than a week in advance. I know that folks want to know when they're going to get it. Once we get more certainty going out a few weeks, or months, we can do more planning and set up more clinics,” Kalyanaraman said.

Meanwhile, Lebowitz and thousands of other Marylanders continue to wait.

“Annoyed. I wasn't really mad, I’m annoyed with this whole thing. It’s frustrating, it's annoying.

“People are getting frustrated and we're asking them to be patient. We're signing them up and we're going down the list as systematically as we can,” Singer said.

“I just want people to know and understand that we are working within the constraints that we are facing and trying very hard to meet the demands of the community,” Levy said.

WMAR-2 News first spoke with Lebowitz last Thursday. One week later, she says she finally got the email she's been waiting for about a month to receive. She now has an appointment to get vaccinated.