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Maryland to study authorizing a 2nd booster for nursing home residents

ANNAPOLIS — A second study of residents of state nursing homes is underway to determine if the elderly in congregate facilities need a second COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.

Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that the state is preparing to offer fourth doses to vulnerable adults living in nursing homes and other congregate living facilities.

“This study will help us determine if we move forward with a potential fourth dose for some of our most vulnerable residents,” said Hogan.

The governor said that while the current booster shot “has been effective against the omicron variant, we don’t want to take anything for granted.”

The study by the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University is similar to one conducted last summer. About 500 residents of nursing homes were tested for coronavirus antibodies. The study found that more than 60% of those tested showed waning levels of antibodies after being fully vaccinated.

The results were similar to a study conducted in Israel.

Based on the results of the Maryland study, Hogan ordered that residents 65 and older living in nursing homes and congregate living facilities were eligible for a booster dose. Pharmacies, doctors and other medical professionals were ordered to not turn away seniors seeking a booster dose.

Fourth doses are already available in the United States for people who are immunocompromised and at high risk for contracting the virus. Federal officials said in December that it was too soon to talk about a broader use of a fourth dose.

Israel approved fourth doses for adults over 60, health care workers and the immunocompromised if they were at least four months from their third shot.

“I think the federal government is talking about those things now, and we hope they will make a decision on it,” said Hogan. “But if we believe it’s necessary to save lives in our nursing homes we’ll move forward with a fourth dose without the (approval) of the federal government.”

The new study conducted in Maryland is expected to take about two weeks. Hogan would not say when, or if, he would order the extra booster be made available to nursing home residents in the state.

“We hope it won’t be necessary, but we will be prepared to take action if necessary,” said Hogan.

Maryland continues to report declines in cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations.

On Thursday, the state’s rolling seven-day average fell to nearly 7,203 cases per day. This is more than 39% lower than the average a week earlier. It is, however, nearly three times higher than the same time a year ago.

“We are encouraged by our substantially improving situation,” said Hogan. “But the next 10 days to two weeks are really going to be critical. So, our aggressive efforts will continue.”

Hogan declared a state of emergency on Jan. 4 amid forecasts of hospitalizations surging to 5,000 COVID-19 patients.

“I’m hopeful in another 15 days we’ll be in a position where we don’t need to extend the state of emergency,” he said.

On Thursday, hospitalizations declined for the seventh consecutive day to 2,983 total patients, nearly a 16% decrease compared to a week ago. The total number of patients is still about 18% higher than on Jan. 1.

And the governor said that the state’s hospitalizations may have peaked earlier this month and will not reach the 5,000 mark.

“I think we’re going to dodge a bullet on that one,” said Hogan.

Still, deaths continue to rise. On Thursday, the state reported an additional 70 deaths in January, bringing the total for the month to more than 700, making January the deadliest month in the last year of the pandemic.

Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said the state expects the number of deaths to peak in the next seven to 10 days.

A masked Hogan met with reporters Thursday afternoon, hours after announcing his wife Yumi tested positive for the virus.

The governor said his wife was feeling fine and suffering only mild symptoms currently.

Both the governor and his wife are fully vaccinated and received a booster dose. He encouraged those who have not received a booster dose to do so if eligible.

“No one should think of the booster as a bonus or extra dose,” he said.

Hogan tested positive before Christmas and quarantined himself in the governor’s mansion.

“I know my wife had me locked in a room for 10 days and was dropping food outside the door,” Hogan said. “Now I’m doing the same thing for her. She is isolating and we’re trying to keep everybody safe.”