Today, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that 98% of Maryland seniors are now vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing the total adult population to over 85% vaccinated. He said the state is now encouraging all eligible Marylanders to get a booster dose. Moderna and Johnson and Johnson booster doses were approved for certain populations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Oct. 21, while Pfizer booster doses were approved last month.
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At a press conference on Monday, Hogan said he worked closely with local health departments after the announcement:
“I immediately directed state health department officials to authorize providers across the state to make boosters available everywhere for the nearly 1.4 million Marylanders who are now eligible to receive a booster shot.”
People who fall under the following categories are currently eligible for a booster dose, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Six months have passed since receiving a second dose, or two months have passed since receiving a Johnson and Johnson dose
- Seniors aged 65 and over
- People aged 18 and over with underlying medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
- People aged 18 and over who work or live in high-risk settings, including health care and grocery stores
Dennis Schrader, secretary for the Maryland Department of Health (MDH), said booster shots maintain a person’s immunity against COVID-19, which may decrease over time. In Aug. 2020, the state launched the country’s first Antibody Testing Program, which tested over 6,000 nursing home residents, and found that 60% of the population showed waning immunity from the virus. In August of this year, the state also launched a new Antibody Testing Program to vet nursing home residents’ COVID-19 immunity closer to the authorization of the booster doses.
Hogan assured booster doses are widely available in the state.
“We have both the supply and the capacity to provide a booster shot to anyone who needs one.”
Despite the increased availability of vaccine doses, COVID-19-related health disparities remain in the state. An analysis of MDH data from Maryland Matters found that non-Hispanic African-Americans make up 24.7% of the fully vaccinated population, despite making up 32.2% of the state population. While a portion of non-Hispanic white Marylanders remain unvaccinated, the gap is much smaller: 50.6% are fully vaccinated compared to 57.3% of the state population. Additionally, Hispanic Marylanders account for 14.1% of COVID-19 deaths but 10.6% of the state population.
MDH established a Vaccine Equity Task Force earlier this year to work with community partners to help address these disparities. Dr. Jinlene Chan, MDH deputy secretary of Public Health Services, offered an overarching answer at the Monday press conference when asked about vaccine efforts towards children of underserved communities.
“We really have been working with our local health departments, in partnership with school systems, because every child goes to school. We want to work with school systems to put those school-based vaccine clinics in the communities where they need them, so that children can get to them [and] so that parents may not have to get them transported there.”
Schrader said booster shots would help better protect Marylanders with comorbidities like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“Those with comorbidities are at an increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19…many comorbidities are common conditions which are normally managed, but when combined with COVID-19 can become life-threatening… we have instructed all COVID-19 vaccine providers to reach out to such vulnerable patients in their network to get them a booster shot as soon as possible.”
Research shows that populations with comorbidities disproportionately consist of people of color. MDH data from July 2020 found that Hispanic Marylanders and non-Hispanic Asians were 18%-21% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic white Marylanders. Non-Hispanic Black Marylanders were more than three times as likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic white Marylanders.
The state ordered 180,000 booster doses last week, which Schrader said were expected to arrive “very soon.” Marylanders can determine their eligibility for a booster dose by visiting https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine#BoosterEligibility.