ELLSWORTH — COVID-19 vaccine doses are arriving weekly and more residents are able to register for and receive their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, but Maine is still in its early days in vaccinating all residents who are able and willing to receive the vaccine.
Just administering doses to the 193,000 residents who are 70 years of age or older, the current group eligible to receive the vaccine, could last several weeks, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Nirav Shah said at the agency’s briefing on Feb. 2.
Each week, Maine is “only getting a fraction of vaccines needed” to fully vaccinate those 70 and above, Shah said.
Both the vaccine supply and a flawed federal registration program that left Maine and other states scrambling to create their own registration programs are factors in what many residents see as a frustrating vaccine rollout. And, with highly transmittable variants appearing in the United States, Shah said “we are in a race to see if we can outrun the virus.”
As of Tuesday, 158,071 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to Maine residents, with Group 1A, which includes frontline essential workers, health-care professionals and long-term care facility residents and staff, not yet completed. Of the doses given, 117,613 were first doses and 40,458 were the second doses required for the vaccine to be effective.
“Fourteen days after that second dose has been administered, [a person] will be considered fully vaccinated,” Shah said.
The federal government has released additional vaccine doses, and Shah said Maine will be getting “slightly more” Moderna vaccines next week. In addition, a federal pharmacy program will receive “separate and distinct” vaccine allotments, Shah said. “The number for Maine? That’s the question on the table.”
Maine is focused on providing large-scale vaccinations quickly administered, which can be a barrier to access for residents who don’t drive or have easy access to public transportation, an issue affecting rural areas. The Maine CDC is working with the Eastern Area Agency on Aging “to focus on Mainers who may be
homebound or don’t drive, [but] it will definitely take some time,” Shah said. “One of the best things we can do today is for everyone else around them to be vaccinated. That alone will greatly significantly reduce their likelihood to get COVID-19.”
While Tuesday’s weather closed some vaccination facilities, vaccines were still being shipped to Maine. The vaccines can survive in shipping containers for 72 hours without undergoing temperature changes, so “even if these boxes are not delivered today, the vaccines will not have been compromised,” Shah explained.
With positive case numbers and test positivity rates falling in recent days, Shah, a self-proclaimed optimist, said, “I am concerned that these findings are a pause rather than a stop.”