The Kent County Health Department has been bombarded with calls from Kent’s senior population following Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement last week to accelerate completion of Phase 1B and 1C of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Hogan’s new plan pushes the vaccination program two months ahead of schedule–and includes the state’s elderly population. 

Elderly residents here and across the state have scrambled to get in line as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have returned to a record setting pace.

Hogan’s accelerated schedule does not mean wider availability of vaccinations unless the supply of vaccine is increased to keep up with the demand.

“First and foremost we need to have vaccine, and vaccine is in very short supply,” said Kent County Health Officer Willam Webb at Tuesday’s meeting of the Kent County Commissioners.

Webb told the Commissioners that the state distributes 72,000 doses per week that are divided among the counties, hospitals and contract partners. He said the allocations did not increase when Hogan moved up the vaccination schedule.

Webb said Phase 1 eligible recipients represent a third of Kent’s population. Kent has one of the oldest populations in the state.

“It’s a large swath of our community,” Webb said. “It’s roughly 6,000 to 7,000 individuals that would qualify under Phase 1.”

Under the new plan, Phase 1B, for those 75 and older, began Monday, a week ahead of schedule. The Phase 1C group, targeting age groups 65 to 74, is scheduled to begin Monday,  Jan. 25 — not early March as originally planned. Phase 1A is nearly complete and was carved out for first responders and frontline healthcare workers.

Webb said the health department is currently capable of administering 1,000 vaccines per week and that Kent County receives approximately 500-600 doses per week. He said that it would take awhile to vaccinate a population of 19,000. The county needs 38,000 doses to meet the two-dose requirement for immunization.

He said commercially run clinics coming online in other parts of the state could actually reduce Kent’s allocation for a brief period until thesupply catches up with the current demand.

Webb was optimistic about future availability of the vaccine.

“I’m hoping the supply chain will improve,” Webb said. He said American ingenuity always catches up to the demand.

“One thing our country has demonstrated over and over again is
that when you have a need like this eventually we will respond and we will have the capacity to deliver the vaccine that we need,” he said. “As we progress further in the years, the supply chain for vaccine will open up significantly and that we will be able to get many, many people vaccinated quickly.”

He said additional vaccines were getting approved by the FDA, which will add to the supply chain in the months ahead. 

“We have the capability to do the vaccinations and get it into people’s arms,” he said. He expressed confidence that the county could handle any increase in allocations from the state — and there is also a  plan under consideration to offer weekend clinics if needed.

Webb said vaccines would take the same path as protective gear and masks did early on in the pandemic.

“We were behind for a while but we got caught up quickly and now there are no shortages of PPE,” he said. “The same will happen with the availability of vaccines.”

In addition to the barrage of calls to the health department, the state’s website that registers vaccination appointments at one point crashed over the past weekend.

“The website had issues Friday and over the long weekend,” Webb said in an interview with the Kent Pilot on Wednesday. “There were all kinds of problems getting registered,” he said.

He said the “website appears to be working correctly at this point.”

To register for a vaccination, Kent residents must fill out an “interest form” online and wait to be contacted for an appointment. Webb said the health department was relying on volunteers to help schedule appointments for seniors who do not have Internet access.

Visit https://kenthd.org/ to fill out an interest form.