State health department officials are trying to speed up the number of state residents getting the new booster and their flu vaccine. In some locations like Howard County, the number of people being vaccinated is high, while in others like Anne Arundel County the interest is pretty low, county health department officials said. (Abby Zimmardi/Capital News Service)

By Shannon Clark, Capital News Service

After a relatively slow start to the rollout of the new COVID-19 booster, the Maryland Department of Health began a outreach program this week, aimed at increasing the booster vaccination rates in the state. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced the state’s already established ‘COVIDReady’ campaign will focus on encouraging residents to get the updated COVID booster and flu shot at the same time, to maximize protection against the upcoming flu season and the Omicron variant. 

“The new bivalent booster shot is another important tool in our toolbox to help Marylanders stay COVIDReady,” Hogan said in a press release on Tuesday.

So far, the response to the booster has been uneven.

For example, only 11 people received the vaccine at a pop-up booster event Sunday hosted by the state health department at the Salvadoran Independence Festival at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.

In Howard County, the health department’s first booster clinic Monday was “completely full,” said Lisa DeHernandez, director of communications and public information.  The department so far has given out 300 vaccinations, she said. 

“We are seeing a very positive response from the Howard County community,” DeHernandez said. “The interest is there and people continue to protect themselves and their families from serious illness.”

In Anne Arundel County, 242 boosters have been administered since shots began on Sept. 12, said Megan Pringle, communications director of the Anne Arundel County Health Department. 

“The demand is pretty low as of right now,” Pringle said. “We have doses for about 814 people, and obviously it would be great if we could get more people signed up, but I just don’t think it’s at the forefront of people’s minds right now.”

The state’s GoVax Call Center is currently notifying Marylanders who are booster eligible through phone calls and text messages. The boosters are now available at over 850 pharmacies and drugstores, according to the governor’s office, but some chains like Walmart said they are still waiting on doses to arrive. State healthcare officials recommend Marylanders use the state’s COVID Vaccination Site Searcher for the most updated locations with boosters available. 

“We continue to encourage all Marylanders to be COVIDReady by getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible,” said Chase Cook, deputy director of media relations for the state health department.