Maryland directs doctors, pharmacists to follow expanded rules for coronavirus vaccine boosters

Maryland health officials and pharmacies say they’re prepared to follow new federal approvals for coronavirus vaccines that will allow more people to get booster shots.

Under the new approvals, anyone who received the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines can get a booster shot after six months if they are 65 or older or if they are 18 and older living in long-term care settings, suffering from underlying medical conditions or working in jobs that put them at risk of contracting the virus.


Previously, only those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in those categories could get a booster shot.

The federal government also now allows any adult who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to get a booster dose two months later.


People also can mix-and-match the vaccines, receiving a different brand of vaccine for the booster dose compared to the initial vaccine.

“The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe – as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant.”

The Maryland Department of Health sent a bulletin to health care providers on Friday outlining the new rules. When getting a booster shot, patients only need to “self-attest” that they are eligible; no proof is required.

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that the new guidelines will help the state as it works to vaccinate Marylanders and maintain their immunity against the virus, which has killed 10,554 people in the state. On Friday, 650 people were being treated for COVID-19 in Maryland hospitals, and all told, more than 50,000 people in the state have been hospitalized with the virus during the pandemic.

Nearly 66% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, not counting booster shots. Among adults age 18 and older, nearly 86% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Since January, about 89% of hospitalizations and 88% of deaths from COVID in Maryland have been among people who are not vaccinated, according to state data.

Hogan, speaking to reporters at an event in Baltimore on Friday, said he’s “excited” for the next step in getting out booster shots.

“We have been working on this for many months and, as you know, we’ve been kind of pushing the federal government to this point,” Hogan, a Republican, said. “We’re pleased that they’ve finally given us authorization and we’re going to start today.”


Addressing television cameras, Hogan added: “We’re excited to be moving forward with those folks who got Moderna and J&J. They can mix and match. So anyone who’s watching today, they can go out right now and get their booster shot.”

More than 250,000 booster doses have already been administered in Maryland. Hogan said the state has enough supply of the vaccines to meet the demand for boosters.

Officials with the CVS pharmacy chain said they have both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines available for booster shots, as well as for those getting vaccinated for the first time.

The Walgreens pharmacy chain said it’s offering Johnson & Johnson and Moderna boosters, in addition to the previously authorized Pfizer-BioNTech boosters, in the Baltimore region.

The American Medical Association applauded the expanded booster eligibility and the ability to mix brands between initial vaccination and booster shots.

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The new rules “will help provide continued protection against COVID-19 for those who need it most,” said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, past president of the medical association, in a statement.

“The scientific evidence is clear that the vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and remain effective in preventing hospitalizations and severe disease,” she said.

There are vaccine experts, however, who don’t believe the science backs giving so many more people boosters of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines yet. They say the initial vaccinations remain effective against severe illness in most people and the focus should be on unvaccinated people in this country and elsewhere.

Seniors and residents of long-term care facilities have the strongest case for boosters, as well as people who got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson, said Dr. Bill Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“I don’t think the booster doses really interfere with our ability to vaccinate the unvaccinated in the U.S., although some unvaccinated individuals may interpret this as evidence that the vaccines don’t work,” Moss said. “What really bothers me is vaccines that expire and are wasted when much of the world still needs vaccines.”

And, he added: “I am not convinced young healthy individuals need a booster dose.”


Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.