CHESTERTOWN — The Kent County Health Department began its COVID-19 vaccine rollout Tuesday afternoon, administering the first doses of Moderna’s two-shot coronavirus vaccine — what’s called the priming dose — to local health care providers and first responders.

They will return in 28 days for a booster shot.

Law enforcement, paramedics, detention center staff, firefighters and health care providers who do not work in a hospital, nursing home or long-term care facility — health department staff, primary care physicians. urgent care staff and medical lab technicians, for example — are given priority in phase 1A, according to Kent County Health Officer William Webb.

He said essential employees and those at the highest risk of contracting serious COVID symptoms, interpreted as anyone 75 and older, will be vaccinated in phase 1B.

Essential employees include teachers, courthouse staff, retail pharmacists, funeral directors, and municipalities’ public works and street crews.

Every health department in Maryland received an initial 100-dose shipment of the Moderna vaccine, which was granted emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-December.

Kent’s shipment of vaccine, syringes, alcohol pads and information cards — 100 separately prepackaged units — arrived Dec. 23, Webb said.

The initial shipment is to be used to confirm proper functioning of the state logistics chain in preparation for the remainder of phase 1A vaccination efforts.

The KCHD received another shipment, this one of 600 doses, Monday, Dec. 28, according to Webb.

He has scheduled a second clinic, also part of phase 1A, for Thursday afternoon, Dec. 31.

The health department at its headquarters on Lynchburg Street in Chestertown, what officially is termed a “point of dispensing,” opened its clinic at noon Tuesday, Dec. 29.

Webb said 97 people who qualify for the first tier, including members of the KCHD vaccination team, had scheduled an appointment.

There are eight stations, each staffed by a nurse vaccinator and an assistant, who, among other tasks, keeps track of paperwork and collects data.

Arrows direct foot traffic through the building and floor decals remind everyone to stay at least 6 feet apart.

There are vehicle traffic monitors in the parking lot and an exit monitor seated inside at the health department’s back door.

Just about everyone in the building is masked up and wears a face shield, paper gown and gloves.

At the front door, individuals take their own temperature with a contactless infrared wrist thermometer and answer a short COVID-19 health screening questionnaire.

They are asked to sit in their vehicle for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. If they have a reaction they are to alert traffic control personnel.

Just before the doors opened at noon Tuesday, nurse Lee Ann Egan administered a dose of the Moderna vaccine to nurse Rita Kulley. Both are members of the KCHD’s vaccine team.

“I didn’t even feel it,” Kulley said.

Health Officer Webb was to be the last vaccinated on Tuesday with an appointment scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

There are three groups receiving the early vaccines, according to Webb.

Hospitals have been given doses for their staff and what are described as “eligible” patients, such as someone who is being treated for congestive heart failure or a 70-year-old who is recovering from a broken hip. The decision as to what patients are “eligible” is left to the caregivers at the hospital, Webb said.

Secondly, contractual pharmacies CVS and Walgreens are hiring teams to vaccinate staff and all residents who are eligible at nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities, residential facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities such as Kent Center in Chestertown and residential psychiatric rehabilitation facilities.

Health departments make up the third group to receive early doses of the vaccine. They are tasked with vaccinating individuals prioritized in phase 1A. This includes all members of the KCHD response team, including those assigned to clerical duties and traffic control, as well as local health care providers and first responders.

Webb said he has not “worked out the details” for phase 1B, but anticipates that will include reaching out to Kent County Public Schools and leadership at the local and county levels.

Once the vaccine is readily available to the general public, Webb said he would “do dedicated vaccine efforts for specific populations.” This could include Black and Latinx residents who are hesitant to get a vaccine due to distrust in government and the nation’s history of racism in medical research.

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