“I have received your calls. I have received your emails. I have heard your frustration,” Alsobrooks said. “I do want to apologize to you.”
Alsobrooks said that it is “an open secret” that the health department has been working through challenges with scheduling appointments — including for second doses, which should be made 21 days after first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 28 days after first shots of the Moderna vaccine.
She said residents who received their first shots had difficulty securing appointments for second shots because the links for sign-ups were shared widely, leading appointments to be filled by people seeking first shots. All residents in need of a second shot will be contacted by the health department a week before their appointment, she said, to ensure they are signed up.
And starting the week of Feb. 15, she said, all residents will receive the times for their second appointments at the same time as their first to minimize confusion.
At this point, the county is still working through vaccinating residents in Phase 1A categories, which includes health-care workers and first responders, and 1B, which includes anyone over age 75 and teachers. Alsobrooks said there are about 25,000 residents in 1B who are preregistered but have not yet been vaccinated.
The total preregistration waitlist, which includes essential workers and people ages 65 to 74 in 1C, is about 125,000 people.
Alsobrooks added that the state vaccination website, PrepMod, has been “very, very difficult to navigate,” including frequently crashing.
She said the county’s Office of Information Technology is working to build its own website that she hopes will be more user-friendly, but there is not yet a timeline for its launch.
Health department staffers will begin using their own scheduling system to make appointments further out, including in March and April, she said, which means the preregistration waitlist should dramatically decrease in coming weeks.
In this new system, residents will not receive a link where they can choose their appointments, but instead get assigned a time and place.
“Please be flexible,” Alsobrooks said, adding that the process made more sense for seniors who are not Internet-savvy.
Alsobrooks said that officials’ main concern is vaccine supply. She said the county was pleased when the state guaranteed the health department would receive 4,200 doses per week for the next four weeks. Previously, the health department was guaranteed just 975 doses per week, she said, although it often received more than that.
When asked by a resident why Montgomery County’s health department has received about twice as many first doses as Prince George’s health department — 42,400 compared with 20,875 — Alsobrooks said she has signed on to a letter to the state asking for more transparency in how doses are being administered.
“It is not equitable for Prince George’s to have received less vaccine than other jurisdictions,” she said. “There is no excuse for it.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has said he wants to send vaccine doses to providers that are getting them out the door quickly, including using a network of providers outside the health department. Of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, Prince George’s ranks last in terms of percentage of doses administered, according to state data.
The state does not publicly disclose where doses are distributed within each county, and there is no way to track where doses siphoned from the health department have been distributed instead.
On average, 37 percent of doses statewide have gone to local health departments, but the share sent to Prince George’s appears to be significantly lower.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said in a statement Saturday that the state is closely coordinating with Alsobrooks and her team to increase vaccine uptake in Prince George’s, including making calls daily to book appointments for residents at Six Flags, one of the state’s first mass vaccination sites.
“We have launched a series of pop-up clinics partnering with faith-based leaders. And state health officials have significantly increased the local health department’s allocation for the four next weeks,” Ricci said. “It is going to take an agile and aggressive effort to get this done.”
Erin Cox contributed to this report.