County Health Officer: It’s Not Fair That We’re a Punching Bag

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of mass confusion, rampant rumors and frustration about vaccine availability, MoCo Health Officer Travis Gayles defended the county’s vaccine performance at a media briefing today. In evaluating what Gayles had to say, let’s remember a few salient points: there is a nationwide shortage of vaccines; the state allocates vaccines it receives from the federal government between county health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other vaccinating entities; Montgomery County did not receive doses commensurate with its population as of late January; the counties do not have enough supplies to vaccinate everyone covered by the state’s current phases; and MoCo’s state legislators are demanding that the state do a better job. Neither Gayles nor anyone else in county government has control over these factors. Additionally, Gayles has been targeted by racist and homophobic attacks.

That said, Gayles is clearly fed up with the criticism directed at the county. Below is an excerpt from his remarks to the press.


The other thing that I want to comment on, that I will say, that I will take a moment of personal privilege and professional privilege to address a couple of concerns. As a health officer, we have – and as a public health official – we have absorbed a lot of criticism, to put it mildly, in terms of our jobs and what we’re trying to execute and do. The health departments, particularly here in Maryland, have made great strides in terms of ensuring that our residents have access to timely information, when we find it out, as well as from all levels of the pandemic response from testing opportunities to now when we talk about vaccination, in helping provide guidance to our elected officials in terms of making other decisions related to business, to schools, etcetera. We’ve come under a lot of fire and we are a convenient punching bag, if you will, when things don’t go well.

But that’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the thousands of first-line responders who are part of health departments, who are working in our communities to stand up and make sure that our residents are safe. Now we have provided as much guidance to the state as we can, particularly as it relates to vaccine-related issues. We still do not find out our allotments until late. It’s Thursday afternoon and I can’t tell you how many doses that the health department in Montgomery County or any other venue in Montgomery County will receive for doses next week. That limits our ability to be able to consistently stand up clinics and provide timely information to you as our residents.

So we recognize your frustration because we share a lot of that frustration. We do know that the governor is having a press conference in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what those comments will be as unfortunately often-times health officers are not included in those conversations. So what I’m saying is we recognize your frustration as our residents and we’re doing everything we can to get information in a timely manner so that we can put it together in a comprehensive, cohesive manner to deliver you the services that you deserve as our residents of our jurisdiction. So while we continue to advocate on your behalf, we do hope that you remain patient with us as we continue to work with the resources that we have in order to put out a product that is worthy of being accepted and meets the needs of you as our residents.