Marylanders age 65 and over who live in nursing homes and other congregate care facilities became eligible for COVID-19 booster shots on Tuesday, under an order from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).
Seniors who live in assisted living facilities, residential drug treatment centers, and group homes for people with disabilities also became eligible for the shots, which health experts have said can bolster protection against the coronavirus.
Hogan issued the order after the state’s Antibody Testing Program determined that more than 60% of vaccinated residents had “some form of waning immunity over time, and showed that as many as one-in-three are now particularly vulnerable.”
He also cited an Israeli study which concluded that a booster — typically a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines — led to an 11-fold reduction in infections and a ten-fold decrease in severe illness.
“All of the evidence makes it abundantly clear that we cannot afford to delay taking decisive action to protect our most vulnerable citizens,” Hogan said.
The state’s research tested more than 500 nursing home residents.
The state Health Department also issued guidance on Tuesday ordering all pharmacies and health providers to provide a booster shot “without any need for a prescription or a doctor’s order to anyone who considers themselves to be immunocompromised,” Hogan said.
“No one in this category should be turned away from receiving a booster,” he added.
The governor said Maryland has a strong supply of vaccine and does not anticipate reopening mass vaccination sites when the general public becomes eligible for booster shots.
A potential White House hopeful in 2024, Hogan continued his criticism of the federal government, saying that states “have had to operate without clear guidance” from the CDC or FDA as to when booster shots will be recommended for people under age 65 and those without health conditions.
“The limited guidance we have received has been confusing and contradictory,” Hogan said, echoing complaints he made on a Sunday talk show, “and it is still unclear when and how more people will become eligible.”
According to the state Department of Health, an average of 17 of every 100,000 Marylanders tested positive over the last week, a 15% decrease since the beginning of September.
Hogan said his administration is “proud” that Maryland is unlike the states that have “spiking numbers… with their case-rates surging out of control and their hospitals overflowing.”
According to the CDC, community transmission of COVID is “high” in 19 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdiction, and “substantial” in the remaining five.
Hogan also announced a $3 million “Community COVID-19 Vaccination Project,” which he described as a “door-to-door canvassing effort to directly engage Marylanders living in areas with low vaccination rates and in effort to encourage more vaccinations.”
The project will also provide health education in “at-risk neighborhoods.”
“The vaccines are the single most effective way to protect people from severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” he said, adding that only 0.2% of fully-vaccinated Marylanders have been hospitalized.
At a time when right-wing media personalities and outlets are touting unproven treatments, Hogan encouraged people who test positive and begin to experience symptoms to consult with their health-care provider about monoclonal antibody therapy.
“These monoclonal antibodies are the only approved and effective treatment for COVID-positive individuals who are symptomatic but not yet severe enough to require hospitalization,” Hogan said.
Maryland has completed more than 10,000 infusions at 30 facilities, Hogan said, an effort that has cut hospitalizations and deaths significantly.
By Bruce DePuyt