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Homebound Currently Not In Line To Get COVID-19 Vaccine In Baltimore County

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Baltimore County
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As Baltimore County administers its COVID-19 vaccine plan, it is also trying to figure out how to vaccinate a hard-to-reach group: people who are homebound. The limited number of available vaccines coupled with the logistics involved make them difficult to reach.

Carbra McDonnell’s wife of 51 years, Ann Marie, has Alzheimer’s as well as Parkinson’s Disease. McDonnell says her condition has been deteriorating during the pandemic.

She is homebound. It takes an hour to feed her.  She can no longer carry on a conversation. She would qualify to live in a nursing home, but he is caring for her at their home in Catonsville instead.

“If she can’t communicate, I would hate to put her in that situation where I couldn’t be at least in there a part of the time,” McDonnell said.

Before the pandemic, McDonnell made the decision to keep his wife home. McDonnell says she was there for him when he served in the Army for 24 years.

“Wives in the military really sacrifice quite a bit,” McDonnell said. “I couldn’t, I just felt like I couldn’t do that to her.”

If she were in a nursing home, she would have been among the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine. McDonnell has signed his wife up on the county’s vaccine registry and checked the box indicating she’s homebound. He also has called around to see how a homebound person can receive it. So far, no luck.

Baltimore County doesn’t know how many homebound people there are. County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch said they are talking to home health agencies to see if they could vaccinate them, but it’s tricky business.

“The vaccine, once you open it up and defrost it, you have to use it within a certain amount of time,” Branch said. “So going from house, to house to house is not optimal.”

Nearly half of the county’s 1,070 deaths from COVID-19 have been in nursing homes. Branch says he recognizes that there are elderly and others who are infirm who don’t live in congregate facilities.

Branch said, “Everybody may be in the same peers, but from my perspective as a health officer, I have to be able to then figure out who is more at risk for death.”

Although McDonnell's wife is homebound, he said she needs the vaccine. She comes in contact with an aide and a nurse who come to the house. He fears what would happen if she got COVID but could not clearly communicate.

Democratic Delegate Pat Young represents McDonnell in the General Assembly. Young is trying to help McDonnell get his wife vaccinated.

“I feel for what Dr. Branch is saying because he’s stuck,” Young said.

Baltimore County’s COVID vaccine clinic is at the Maryland State Fairgrounds for those who are lucky enough to have secured an appointment.

Around 138,000 people have signed up on Baltimore County’s COVID vaccine registry, according to a health department spokeswoman. They are in the queue to eventually get an appointment. So far, the county has administered about 18,000 doses.

Starting this week, anyone 65 and over qualifies to get the vaccine. In Baltimore County, that means a quarter of a million seniors are now eligible, according to County Executive Johnny Olszewski.  And the county is expecting to receive only 7,800 doses this week.

Olszewski said just do the math.

“We want people to know that they’re eligible, but we’re also trying to temper expectations about when they can get through that entire grouping before we move to group 2 and to group 3,” he said.

Group 2 includes adults under 65 who are at risk of having a severe COVID-19 illness. The third and last group is healthy adults under 65.

If you live or work in Baltimore County, you can request a vaccine at its online COVID-19 registry.

For now, Carbra McDonnell is wondering when his wife will get her turn.

McDonnell asked, “As far as people that are actually not in a nursing home or maybe even waiting to get into a nursing home and can’t get in, what about them?”

The Developmental Disabilities Administration, which supports homebound, disabled people in Maryland declined a request for an interview.

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