ELLSWORTH — Get your shot, take a selfie, post it on social media. How many of these photos have we scrolled through in recent weeks? For many Hancock County residents, receiving a vaccine is more than a COVID-19 rite of passage. It’s the road to freedom.
That is what Johanna-Karen Johannson said. Recently retired as priest at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, the Bucksport resident said she made an appointment as soon as she was eligible.
“I am 71 years old, and I want to live a long, full life,” Johannson said. And despite a strong reaction to her second Moderna shot, once she recovered, “there was just a new sense of freedom,” she said. “I could go places. And [I felt] a certain satisfaction that I’d done the right thing for myself and the people around me.”
But not everyone is rushing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, often for different reasons. Gabe Lyon, 18 years old and from Blue Hill, said he did not want to get vaccinated.
“I’m fearful,” he said. “Just of the corporate state and genetic mutations and population control. All that stuff.”
But although initially resistant, Lyon now plans on getting vaccinated in the next few weeks.
“I already changed my mind out of submission,” he said. “I’ve accepted getting the vaccine because it’s eventually going to be required. I’m getting it in the next week or two.”
Just like positivity rates, testing, hospitalizations and fatalities, COVID-19 vaccinations are a numbers game. Everyone in Maine 16 years of age and above became eligible to receive a vaccine on April 19, after an age-based phased-in approach began earlier this year. But while Maine shows one of the highest percentages of vaccinated populations in the country, numbers have dropped from over 125,000 doses the first week of eligibility for all adults to under 63,000 in the past week.
The youngest age group has the lowest vaccination numbers, in part a reflection of being eligible for far fewer weeks than older age groups. And that matches recent higher positivity rates among young Mainers. As of May 9, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that those residents under 20 years of age account for 18.6 percent for all positive cases, followed by people in their 30s, who account for 14.7 percent of all positive cases in Maine.
Only Hancock County residents 60 to 69 years of age have a noticeably lower full vaccination rate than the rest of Maine: 72.02 percent versus 75.54 percent. Meanwhile residents 80 and above vary 0.02 percent, from Hancock County’s 79.89 percent to the statewide 79.91 percent. All other age groups are above the state numbers, with the total population at 47.51 percent fully vaccinated compared to the state average of 43.74 percent.
And as of May 10, 12- to 15-year-olds are eligible for vaccination, after the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group on May 10 and Governor Janet Mills announced providers could start administering them right away.
But what about gender? State data shows that of all fully vaccinated residents, women comprise 56.11 percent while men account for 43.68 percent, a greater disparity than the 1 percent gap between female and male populations statewide. Hancock County vaccination rates are similar. (Of those vaccinated, 0.22 percent did not specify gender.)
And while herd immunity, estimated to occur when 70 to 85 percent of a population is vaccinated, may not be in immediate reach, populations hit hard and early in the pandemic — those 70 years of age and older — have surpassed the herd immunity marker. As that age group was among the first to become eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the hope is that the numbers of younger residents receiving vaccinations will rise.
To date, Hancock County has seen 1,267 confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, or 2.31 percent of its total population. The 36 COVID-19-related deaths in the county represents 0.065 percent of its total population.