Virginia officials have been planning their rollout of boosters since mid-August and say they’re prepared to administer boosters, a sentiment that other area officials echoed. “We have no concerns about current supplies . . . and have the ability to draw down approximately two million more doses that have been set aside in reserve for us,” said Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator.
Maryland officials began offering booster shots for certain older adults this month, and they said so far they haven’t had any trouble meeting the demand. D.C. officials are still discussing the best path forward.
Health leaders have spent the past 10 months developing a robust infrastructure for administering coronavirus vaccines. Unlike the early rollout, which was characterized by confusion and chaos as residents scrambled to book appointments through glitchy websites and stood in long lines for scarce vaccine supplies, residents can now turn to a number of places to get vaccinated, including pharmacies as well as faith-based and community-based organizations.
“We have benefited from developing infrastructure to vaccinate people,” said Neil J. Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “What we’ve benefited from a lot in between January and February — when many seniors were getting their first doses — than today, is that last-mile infrastructure that has brought vaccines to communities.”
A situation where those newly eligible for a booster shot will be out-competing people looking for first doses is unlikely to occur, especially because demand for first doses has waned both in the region and across the country. Yet vaccinating the unvaccinated is essential because “first doses are a more effective way to end the pandemic than third doses,” Sehgal said.
Around 30 percent of people each in D.C., Maryland and Virginia are unvaccinated, according to The Washington Post’s tracker.
Infection rates have been on the rise for months, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, although they are beginning to show some signs of slowing. The seven-day average of new cases in the D.C. area stood at 4,838 on Thursday, compared with 5,174 one week ago. The seven-day average of new deaths was 54 on Thursday, up from 44 one week ago.
“If we don’t get everybody something, then we’re doing nothing,” said Debra Fraser-Howze, the founder of Choose Healthy Life, a network of 120 churches in 13 jurisdictions — including D.C. and New York — providing coronavirus testing and administering vaccines.
“The focus has got to remain on the hard-to-reach, the people who don’t have anything yet, any immunity to this at all, because they’ll get sick and the people who have immunity will get sick,” Fraser-Howze said.
Virginia has 1.18 million doses on hand, including 693,000 of Pfizer, and could access more without trouble, Avula said. He expected several hundred thousand Virginians to be eligible for the booster shot by next week.
Virginia residents will able to get boosters at pharmacies and primary care providers, and officials plan to reopen large-scale community vaccination centers. Those centers will be located across the state, including in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties, where the Dulles Expo Center is already open, Avula said.
“Over the next few weeks we’ll see these pop up all over the state and be ready for the real surge, which I don’t think will happen until the end of October,” Avula said. He noted that’s when officials expect the next wave of eligibility for boosters as well as the authorization to immunize 5- to 11-year-olds, and even approval of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters. The Virginia health department encourages providers to prioritize appointments for first and second doses, he said.
Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) authorized the state’s nursing homes and other congregate care facilities to consider residents 65 and older immunocompromised, making them immediately eligible to receive a booster.
“Maryland has the supply and the capacity to provide a booster shot to anyone who needs one, including more than 700 pharmacy providers statewide,” Andrew Owen, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said in a statement. Maryland public health officials planned to update guidance to providers once the CDC finalizes the eligibility categories.
But as the eligibility pool for booster shots grows, it will be important to remain alert for emerging disparities, Sehgal said.
“The disparities in who is able to access a third dose earlier will likely persist because if you are an otherwise mobile senior, who is able to navigate the health-care system, who speaks English, who has a primary care doctor, you’re likely to get your third dose earlier than someone who does not have any of those enabling resources,” Sehgal said.