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Baltimore city, Montgomery prepare to roll out new COVID-19 booster

Vials of Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 vaccine are shown during production in Kalamazoo, Michigan. U.S. regulators have authorized updated COVID-19 boosters, the first to directly target today’s most common omicron strain. (Pfizer via AP)

With U.S. health advisers endorsing new booster shots for emergency use, Maryland and other states must now decide how they plan to roll out the vaccine.

Some Maryland jurisdictions already have plans for getting the booster shots, called bivalent boosters, to their constituents. The Baltimore City Health Department told The Daily Record the city will be receiving a small amount of the boosters — 900 Pfizer doses and 200 Moderna — to be distributed via health care providers, Mobile Response clinical partners, pharmacies and city-run clinics.

Based on existing vaccine infrastructure, the health department expects primary care providers and pharmacies will most likely be the main distributors of the booster, according to Arinze Ifekauche, the department’s spokesperson. The city is expecting to receive doses of the new boosters in the coming weeks and will most likely begin doling out the shots on Sept. 12.

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In a weekly virtual briefing for reporters, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the county was planning to request 1,000 doses, WTOP reported on Wednesday. (Montgomery County’s health department did not respond to follow-up questions from The Daily Record about how the vaccines will be distributed and when the county expects to begin distributing the vaccine.)

The state’s Department of Health is not yet releasing its plans for rolling out the bivalent booster shots.

“Maryland is working closely with the federal government on both acquisition and guidance regarding administration of the bivalent boosters. We plan to offer these doses through the same robust COVID-19 infrastructure that has made Maryland one of the most vaccinated states in the country,” Chase Cook, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said in an email. “We plan to share more information about these shots after the federal government’s final approvals.”

Made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, bivalent vaccines, which target the original strain of the coronavirus as well as the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday. Before shots can be administered, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must provide guidance on how to distribute the boosters, Vox reported.

The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are the dominant strains of the virus spreading in the United States currently. They are highly contagious and good at evading immunity.

Anyone over the age of 18 who received their last COVID-19 shot more than two months ago is eligible for the Moderna bivalent booster. The Pfizer shot has the same criteria, but for those over the age of 12.

According to WTOP, Elrich said that he hopes the new shots will encourage county residents to get the booster; in Montgomery County, 89% of individuals are fully vaccinated but only 58% have also received a booster shot. Statewide, about 77% of Marylanders are fully vaccinated, whereas only about 42% have received their booster.

The emergency use authorization of the bivalent booster coincides with a new effort BCHD is making to promote uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are launching a major canvassing campaign for people who have not received an initial vaccine dose starting next week,” Ifekauche said. “Our first priorities are the areas of the city with the highest unvaccinated populations, so we will start in South Baltimore and will end in the East. These areas are some of the most medically under-resourced areas in the city.”