2021 | Coronavirus

State expands COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility

More than 350 people have gotten booster at clinics run by Montgomery County

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Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the Maryland Health Department was issuing orders allowing more residents to be eligible to receive a booster of the coronavirus vaccine.

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The Maryland Department of Health issued an order Wednesday expanding eligibility for state residents 65 and older and those who are immunocompromised to get a booster shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

Gov. Larry Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday that the new order would apply to “congregate living facilities,” including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential drug treatment centers, and group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

Hogan also announced another state health department order that instructs pharmacies and other health care providers to allow those who consider themselves immunocompromised to be able to receive a booster shot, regardless of if they have a doctor’s note or prescription.

“Some providers may ask you to fill out a simple form, but no one in this category should be turned away from receiving a booster,” Hogan said. “Providers will be required to report any third doses that they administer in the same manner that first and second doses are recorded.”

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a text message on Wednesday that the county has administered boosters to 357 immunocompromised people at county-run clinics. 

“We think most of them are going to their private providers,” Anderson wrote about the rest of eligible residents. She added that officials don’t know how many county residents are immunocompromised, because many of them get health care through a private provider and not through county services.

“Unless we see them in some of our [county] services … we have no way of knowing,” Anderson said in an interview.

County health officials, however, estimate about 21,000 residents might be immunocompromised, based on who fell into the county’s 2B priority group or earlier groups for initial doses, Anderson wrote in a text. Group 2B included “Marylanders age 16 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk for severe COVID-19 illness,” according to county health guidance. 

Hogan said he hopes White House officials, along with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, have an update this week about who else might be eligible for boosters.

He also encouraged federal officials to work diligently in approving Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for full authorization for their vaccines, rather than emergency approval. So far, only Pfizer has full authorization. 

Expanding eligibility to congregate living facilities was a logical first step, he added.

“The FDA and the CDC [have] approved them for people who are immunocompromised and we have studies that show that people in those facilities are part of the immunocompromised,” Hogan said. “So, we’re following the CDC guidance, but broadening the definition.”

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