Health officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, say they could begin providing third COVID-19 vaccine doses to some residents with severely weakened immune systems as early as this week and are already in the planning phase for providing booster shots for all vaccinated residents this fall.
During an online media briefing Wednesday, James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer, said his department has sent a plan to County Executive Marc Elrich for beginning third-dose vaccinations for immunocompromised residents beginning either later this week or early next week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week cleared the way for third doses for immunocompromised people, which includes people who are being actively treated for tumors; recipients of organ transplants and stem cell transplants; people with severe primary immunodeficiency; people with untreated HIV; and people on high doses of corticosteroids.
“First and foremost, people should talk to their health care provider if they feel that their medical condition falls within this category and whether or not an additional dose is appropriate for them,” Bridgers said.
The county, which last winter already collected contact information from residents with underlying health conditions as part of a prioritization process for the first round of vaccinations, plans to begin sending out emails to those residents to set up vaccine appointments at county clinics. The emails will be sent from the address “C19vaccination@montgomerycounty.gov,” he said.
Based on county data, Bridgers estimated about 2.7% of residents — or about 27,000 people — meet the CDC definition of immunocompromised.
As it stands now, the county has on hand about 23,600 total doses combined of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Third doses for general population expected this fall
Plans to dispense third doses for the general population were just formally announced by the CDC Wednesday amid concern about a flagging immune response and the spread of the more infectious delta variant.
The CDC is recommending booster shots at least eight months after the completion of the second dose, beginning as early as Sept. 20.
Reacting to the CDC announcement, Elrich said, “I’m glad the science has finally been settled enough that they’re going to move in the direction of a program for third vaccinations.”
Elrich predicted a smoother rollout than the initial rollout when expanded eligibility for the vaccines led to a rush to make online appointments many likened to the “Hunger Games.”
“In Montgomery County, fortunately, this is going to be, I’ll say, less chaotic than what it was like in the spring when everybody was trying to get vaccines and we only had a very limited supply of vaccines,” Elrich said.
Some logistical challenges are possible though, since most county residents received their initial round of shots at mass vaccination sites outside the county, which have since been phased out, or at grocery stores or hospitals.
“We’re going to need cooperation from the state so that we’re able to plan — not just Montgomery County, which provided a lot of the shots, but also the private providers, the hospitals, the pharmacies, the grocery stores,” Elrich said, who added, “Hopefully, this will be executed in a much calmer way than it was during the spring.”
Of the county’s 12 and older population currently eligible for the vaccines, more than 85% have already been vaccinated, according to county data.
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