Frederick County health officials are on the verge of offering COVID-19 booster shots but await the go-ahead from Gov. Larry Hogan.
The development comes hours after a key committee in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended boosters for those with underlying conditions, aged 65 and up or living in congregate care facilities and who were fully inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) vaccine.
By Thursday evening, however, the Frederick County Health Department hadn't received final approval. When The News-Post reached out to ask when Hogan would issue further guidance, a spokesman from the Maryland Department of Health referred to a tweet from the governor Thursday that highlighted the number of booster shots administered in the state to date.
Once Hogan issues guidance, the doses may not be universally available. Pharmacies and private businesses may still require additional time to adjust their policies and systems to accommodate the change before administering booster doses, county health spokeswoman Rissah Watkins said in an email to The News-Post.
The committee’s decision comes one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to allow for certain groups to receive a booster shot. Those eligible, according to the administration’s website, include people who are 65 and older, people who are immunocompromised and people who work or spend time in high-risk settings -- who weren't included in the CDC committee's recommendation.
The FDA has yet to provide update on when boosters will be authorized for those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer said during a recent county Board of Health meeting that manufacturers are working to create a more effective dose, though she expected that if boosters were approved soon, they’d be the same formula as the third doses that immunocompromised people have been receiving.
Third vaccine doses have been available since August to immunocompromised people and those aged 65 and older living in congregate care facilities who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. In accordance with CDC guidance, Frederick County has offered third doses to immunocompromised people at all of its vaccination clinics since Aug. 13, Watkins said in an email.
During its recent meeting, the Board of Health -- which comprises Brookmyer, County Executive Jan Gardner and the seven members of the County Council -- appeared to take steps toward issuing a public service announcement highlighting the effectiveness of vaccines and encouraging people to wear masks in group settings and in public indoor spaces.
It’s unclear when the board will publish the announcement, Watkins said in an email.
Outbreaks at county schools, detention center
Vaccines and masks were also central themes in a press briefing Gardner held Thursday, during which she outlined the county institutions experiencing outbreaks amid the most recent wave of infections.
“Our most significant outbreak at the moment is at the detention center,” Gardner said.
The Frederick County Adult Detention Center had 18 confirmed cases among inmates and 10 among staff as of Thursday, according to Todd Wivell, spokesman for the county sheriff’s office, which oversees the detention center. The facility’s most recent outbreak began Sept. 15, Wivell said in an email.
Most recent data from Frederick County Public Schools, meanwhile, showed that 18 schools had an outbreak as of Wednesday. The website defines an outbreak as at least two confirmed cases within a two-week period among individuals who are epidemiologically linked but not household contacts.
Five of the county’s nursing homes appeared Thursday on the state’s COVID dashboard, which included facilities that had reported at least one confirmed case as of Wednesday. The facilities are removed from the page when no new cases or pending tests are reported over a 14-day period.
Gardner continued to implore unvaccinated county residents to get the jab and acknowledged those who already have.
“I do want to thank everyone who has been vaccinated,” Gardner said during the briefing. “Not only are you protecting your own health and the health of your family -- you’re protecting our entire community.”
Of the 15 COVID patients who required intensive care last week, 6 were vaccinated and one was partially vaccinated, according to a Facebook post from Frederick Health.
Most recent data from the county’s COVID dashboard showed that as of Wednesday, the county had 31 people hospitalized with COVID, including six in the ICU.
“Don’t let your guard down,” Gardner said.
The county executive said she is concerned about the recent spike in COVID infections carrying into the fall and winter flu season and overwhelming local hospitals. According to the COVID dashboard, Frederick Health Hospital’s ICU has 19 total beds.
Correction: This article has been updated. Six of the county's 15 COVID patients who required intensive care last week were vaccinated, not unvaccinated, as previously stated.