2021 | Coronavirus

Acting health officer urges talking to a doctor about boosters

County continues giving boosters to those who are immunocompromised, official says

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A Montgomery County vaccinator prepares a COVID-19 vaccine syringe at the county clinic on Montgomery College's Germantown campus on March 31, 2021. James Bridgers, the county's acting health officer, told reporters Wednesday that residents should talk with their primary care provider about when to get a potential booster shot once they are available.

File Photo

The county’s acting health officer said Wednesday that residents should speak with their doctor to determine whether they should get a booster shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

James Bridgers said he and county public health officials “were not surprised” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to allow booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for people 65 and older, but not the general eligible population of those 12 and older. 

Bridgers compared it to when coronavirus vaccines were first being distributed late last year and earlier this year. First, health care and public officials were prioritized, then the population most vulnerable to coronavirus infections — older residents and those with co-morbidities — before the general population, he said. 

County officials continue their efforts to provide boosters to immunocompromised residents, Bridgers said.

He said he is confident that given the availability of the vaccine — in pharmacies, primary care providers and hospitals — that once the FDA and CDC approve third doses for Pfizer and Moderna for the general population, county residents will have easier access than they did earlier this year. 

He also cited the fact that county officials were able to start administering booster shots to immunocompromised residents within a day of when guidance was released by the Maryland Department of Health, which occurred in August

County officials are still looking at data to determine when Johnson and Johnson, a one-shot vaccine, could have its boosters approved, Bridgers said.

He said that residents should look at their vaccine cards or information to determine when they will hit the eight-month period after full vaccination, which is two weeks after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

“My takeaway is individuals should contact their primary care physician, they can look at their vaccine cards, and they can kind of gauge when they should be eligible if they fall within that approved age bracket to receive a booster shot,” Bridgers said.

Regarding current vaccination rates, County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters Wednesday that he is pleased with residents who have contributed to the county’s high rates. 

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, as of Wednesday, 88.3% of the county’s eligible population — those 12 and older — was fully vaccinated. Of people 12 and older, 97.2% had received at least one dose. 

Bridgers said that from Aug. 23 to Sept. 19, there were 3,543 coronavirus cases countywide. Of those, 1,389 were among vaccinated people, or about 39%. Hospitalizations, however, remain low compared to other parts of the state, like in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, Bridgers added.

Elrich said that even though there have been a growing number of breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, vaccines are keeping people from getting really sick or hospitalized. 

“For those of you who have not been vaccinated, take a look at what’s happening in this county, this country and around the world,” Elrich said. “Who’s getting sick, and who is dying? All of the evidence says vaccines work.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com