- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday a statewide public health order that makes all residents 65 years and older in group settings immediately eligible for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

The order applies to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential drug treatment centers and group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

“To be clear, these facilities in Maryland will not have to wait to begin offering boosters,” the Republican governor said during a briefing. “These boosters can now be immediately administered, effectively administered.”

An antibody testing program involving more than 500 nursing home residents across Maryland revealed that more than 60% of them experienced waning immunity over time, Mr. Hogan said. As many as a third of residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, more than 28,000 boosters have been administered to immunocompromised people in the state.

The Maryland Department of Health also is issuing new guidance instructing all pharmacies and other providers to administer booster shots without requiring a prescription or doctor’s order to anyone who considers themselves immunocompromised.

Mr. Hogan assured the state has a “sufficient supply” of vaccines for anyone who needs a booster shot.

He added that Maryland is prepared to make boosters available to a wider population once the federal government clears it and provides guidance for administering the extra shots.

Talks about booster shots have centered mostly on the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. It is unclear whether additional doses for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson will be needed. 

The Biden administration has announced that it intends to approve extra vaccine doses starting Sept. 20 for all adults who received their first vaccine round at least eight months ago. Federal regulators have not approved boosters for the general population, but plan to meet later this month to decide whether or not to authorize Pfizer booster shots for people 16 years and older. 

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration greenlighted boosters of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for certain immunocompromised individuals such as organ transplant recipients and those with conditions that weaken their immune system. 

“For several weeks now, states have had to operate without clear guidance from the federal government regarding these booster shots,” Mr. Hogan said. “The limited guidance we have received has been confusing and contradictory, and it is still unclear when and how more people will become eligible. But all of the evidence makes it abundantly clear that we cannot afford to delay taking decisive action to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

Booster doses administered by medical providers will have to be reported similar to other vaccine doses, the governor said. He added those who are unsure if they should get a booster shot should consult their doctors. 

Almost 82% of Maryland residents ages 18 and up are at least partially vaccinated, state health data shows. 

Maryland reported more than 505,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 9,800 deaths linked to the viral illness as of Wednesday. The state also reported a nearly 4.7% test positivity rate. 

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