ELLSWORTH — Maine has received 11,500 doses of the now FDA emergency use-approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for distribution across the state, and an additional 3,500 doses exclusively for Hannaford pharmacies, including the Ellsworth location. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the J&J one requires one dose instead of two. It does not require storage in extreme sub-zero temperatures.
“It’s the type of vaccine we can bring to individuals, rather than asking individuals to come to the vaccine,” said Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Executive Director Dr. Nirav Shah at a March 2 media briefing.
The vaccine was shown to be 72 percent effective overall in the United States and nearly 86 percent effective against severe forms of the disease, according to analysis released by the FDA. Shah noted the J&J vaccine has also shown it is effective against the new variants spreading across the globe, perhaps above the approximately 95 percent efficacy rate of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Thirty-five Hannaford pharmacies in Maine will distribute the J&J vaccine and are accepting appointments for residents over 60 years old, as they become available. The closest Hannaford’s location outside of Ellsworth offering the vaccine is in Old Town. Visit www.hannaford.com/pharmacy/covid-19-vaccine for more information and registration instructions.
On Feb. 26, Governor Janet Mills announced that starting March 3, residents 60 and older would be eligible for vaccination, and that the state would use an age-based approach to expanding vaccinations “in an effort to save lives and ensure that health-care providers can efficiently and quickly vaccinate as many people as possible.” Under the plan, younger adults with serious underlying conditions that put them at risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19 are not prioritized. They are to be vaccinated with their age group.
Age is the highest predictor of serious illness or death from COVID-19, Shah said. “The more folks we can vaccinate in the shortest amount of time means those people who are not vaccinated are still afforded a level of protection, especially in light of the variants.”
“These are hard choices, and we understand some of the frustration out there,” Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew added.
Starting April 1, residents 50 years of age and above may register for vaccination, followed by residents 40 and over on May 1 and those 30 and over in June. President Biden announced on March 2 that there will be enough doses produced to vaccinate all adults who request it by the end of May.
Shah warned against vaccine shopping among the three vaccinations now available.
“The best vaccine you can take is the one closest to our arm,” he said. “We are in a pandemic and we are racing to vaccinate as many people as we can across the state.”
Locally, those who are eligible to receive the vaccine have a choice of Walmart, Walgreens, the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Northern Light Health clinics at Maine Coast Hospital and Blue Hill Hospital and Mount Desert Island Hospital. A list of all vaccination sites in Maine can be found at www.maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites.
Anecdotal evidence shows that appointments fill quickly and registering for a vaccination takes patience, but as of March 2, over 350,000 doses have been administered in Maine. Of these, 236,784 were first doses and 127,647 were second doses, meaning 9.5 percent of the state is fully vaccinated.
Shah warned of positive test rates starting “to creep up a little bit” after hitting a low point about 10 days ago. The positivity rate has ticked up across the United States, Europe and Western Europe.
“We’re not sure at this point what this increase means,” he said, noting it could be part of the “normal up-and-down cycle or something else.”
On March 2, the positivity rate stood at 1.35 on a seven-day basis with testing volume of 672 PCR tests per 100,000 individuals.