Former Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said Monday that because Maryland has a “very high vaccination rate” the state is unlikely to experience a “huge” winter surge in critical COVID-19 infections.

To date, 88% of Marylanders are partially vaccinated, according to the Department of Health, and about 62% are fully vaccinated.

Nationally, about 74% of the population is partially vaccinated, according to the CDC, and about 59% are fully vaccinated.

Below is an edited excerpt of an interview with Sharfstein. Sharfstein also discussed the importance of booster shots and the debate over both mask and vaccine mandates. The state’s positivity rate is getting close to 4% and it may continue to increase as the weather gets colder. How concerned are you about a possible winter surge with the variants?

Sharfstein: I do have some concern and I think that people need to be careful. But I also have a lot of confidence in the vaccine. And I think that in Maryland where we have a very high vaccination rate that it is unlikely that we will see a huge surge in the number of people who are very sick. How important is it to get a booster shot after having received both the first and second doses of the vaccine? 

Sharfstein: I would say that it is going to be helpful for people to get their boosters. What is really important is for the people who have not been vaccinated at all to get vaccinated because they are the people at the greatest risk for getting very sick. How great is the risk of serious illness for those who have had both the first and second doses of the vaccine but have yet to get a booster shot? 

Sharfstein: It is more serious for people who are older or who are immunocompromised. For people who are younger the risk is not very high of getting very sick. But the risk is certainly higher for getting an infection. I would say that people who are older and immunocompromised really should be getting a booster right away. Others can walk, but not necessarily run to get their booster.

But I do think that it is a good idea. When the first vaccine came out, that was a big deal to get that first shot. And it is for people who have not gotten any shots. Some of the jurisdictions in the state, such as Montgomery County, have reinstated indoor mask mandates. Do you expect mask mandates to become more prevalent in the winter months?

Sharfstein: It might happen for periods of time. It really depends on the amount of transmission and the risk at the moment. I think we may be looking at periods of time where we may be wearing masks for awhile. It could be like having an umbrella in your bag. There has been a lot of passionate debate over vaccine mandates. Now that the vaccine is approved for essentially everyone ages 5 and up, should children in schools be required to get vaccinated to attend class? 

Sharfstein: I would say that it is too early for a requirement for young children because really the vaccine just became available for that age group. And it is available under emergency authorization. I think that we will get a lot of information from having millions of children vaccinated.

This article was originally published on on Monday, November 22, 2021.

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