Peter Sooy, a 35-year-old government contractor from Silver Spring, gets the new COVID-19 booster at a Giant pharmacy. Sooy said he wanted to get vaccinated to make sure he protects the new baby in the family. (Abby Zimmardi/Capital News Service)

By Shannon Clark, Capital News Service

Maryland residents are trickling into pharmacies across the state for the few available doses of the new and improved, epidemiologists say, COVID-19 vaccine.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced last week 157,600 doses of the booster will be administered to COVID sites across the state, but so far only a few facilities have the new medication.

Pharmacies at several Maryland Giant groceries have them, but officials at Walmart said they don’t expect to receive shipments until thed of the week. Kaiser Permanente, CVS and Walgreens locations also said they had not received doses at the beginning of the week.

The Maryland Department of Health suggests residents use the state’s COVID Vaccination Site Searcher to find the new booster nearby. More shipments will be ordered as “they become available from the federal government,” state health department officials said..

In Annapolis, Cindy Borchadt, a 61-year-old cancer survivor, was one of a handful of people waiting at the pharmacy at a Giant grocery Tuesday morning to get their booster. Pharmacy officials said the store received 50 vials of the Pfizer and Moderna booster earlier that morning. Prospective recipients filled out the required paperwork and then awaited their turn to go behind the privacy screen for a shot.

“So many people have let their guard down, and I don’t want to be the one to deliver the bug to my 80-year-old mother,” said Borchardt, a volunteer at Chesapeake Children’s Museum in Annapolis. “The research is saying that this is protecting you against the latest variant and at any moment we are in uncharted territory.”

Sitting in one of the black chairs spaced out in the pharmacy waiting area, Carolyn Gardiner, a 73-year-old retired broker, waited to receive her shot. Gardiner quickly signed up for an appointment after Hogan’s Friday press release and said she caught a ride down to her local Giant for the newest shot.

“I think it’s common sense to get the shot,” Gardiner said. “I want to live, and I want to enjoy life. So, I got my booster.”

David McCallister, public information officer for the Maryland Department of Health, and other health care officials recommend residents get the new booster because it will provide much greater protection from the current Omicron variant.

Unlike previous COVID shots, the new bivalent booster is a completely new version from the primary Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, specifically made to target Omicron and its variants, according to health care officials. The booster uses the two components found in the original COVID vaccines, one strain of SARS-CoV-2 and and a strain combining both BA.4 and BA.5 versions of the Omicron variant, according to the FDA.

Authorized as a single dosage shot, Maryland residents can receive the booster two months or later following the completion of their primary COVID vaccine series or previous booster shot. All adults can receive either the Pfizer or Moderna booster regardless of their initial vaccine series. Moderna, however, is not authorized as a booster for individuals younger than 18.

Dr. Gregory M. Schrank is assistant professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and associate hospital epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Schrank said the new vaccine is a dramatic improvement.

“This is really the first time in two years we’ve had a vaccine for COVID-19 that matches the virus that’s currently out there circulating,” he said.

“Because this is the closest a vaccine has come to matching the variant that’s out there in well over a year and a half, I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll see a good response from people and that it will improve vaccine efficacy. I’m leaning on the optimistic side of how this one will perform out there.”