ELLSWORTH – Governor Janet Mills today announced that Maine will adopt an age-based approach to expanding vaccine eligibility. As a result, beginning next Wednesday, March 3, Maine will expand eligibility for the vaccine to those 60 years and older.
The update to Maine’s vaccination strategy, decided in consultation with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reflects recent scientific data indicating that age is among the strongest predictors of whether an individual is likely to get seriously ill and die from COVID-19, even more so than risk factors such as underlying medical conditions.
For example, in Maine, 98 percent of deaths from COVID-19 have been people aged 50 and older. The death rate among people with COVID-19, when compared to Maine residents under age 50, is eight times higher for those in their 50s, 23 times higher for those in their 60s, and 214 times higher for those aged 70 and older. The relative risk of morbidity and mortality associated with age exceeds that of having cancer, lung disease, or a disability. At least four epidemiological studies have found that, even when considering a range of underlying medical conditions, age is a strong predictor of death or severe COVID-19 disease. This approach maintains Governor Mills’ strategy to distribute and administer vaccines in order to protect the most vulnerable – those most at risk of dying from COVID-19.
The strategy replaces the prospect of complicated eligibility rules based on types of work and medical conditions that would be difficult to implement and verify. Such rules could inadvertently slow down the process of getting shots into the arms of Maine people, a critical goal to limit the spread of new COVID-19 variants, according to state officials. The approach is intended to provide a greater measure of certainty and predictability that allows all Maine people to know when they will be eligible for vaccination and is easier to implement and verify for health care providers.
The planned schedule, which is subject to change depending on fluctuations in vaccine supply including an acceleration if supply increases, is as follows:
March 3: Eligibility expands to residents age 60 and older
April: Eligibility expands to age 50 and older
May: Eligibility expands to age 40 and older
June: Eligibility expands to age 30 and older
July and beyond: Ages 29 and under, including children pending authorization of a vaccine for them.
“Throughout the pandemic, my fundamental goal has been to save lives and protect our most vulnerable people. A review of recent data by the Maine CDC indicates that age is a significant predictor of whether someone will become seriously sick or is more likely to die if they contract COVID-19,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Taking that into consideration, along with the clarity, predictability, and relative ease of implementation, I believe this approach is the best option to save lives and ensure the vaccine can be administered to as many people as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We are undertaking the largest mass vaccination effort in history, and I am grateful to Maine people for their understanding and patience as we make adjustments to reflect the latest science and get shots into arms as quickly as we can.”
“Efficiency, equity, and science continue to guide our vaccination strategy,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The research that has been published in recent months consistently and strongly shows that age matters when it comes to COVID-19 risk. As we work toward vaccinating all Mainers, from oldest to youngest, it remains critical that Maine people continue to wear face masks in public, stay at least 6 feet apart, and avoid non-essential gatherings with people who don’t live with them.”
“Simply vaccinating by age will increase our rate of shots in arms, helping us to win the race against the COVID-19 variant taking hold in Maine and look forward to a summer in Maine that, with masks and social distancing, can resemble normal,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “While eligibility is extending to those in their 60s, we continue to work with health care providers and community partners to help those within that population who are the oldest, who are otherwise at risk or disadvantaged, or who may struggle to get to a vaccination site or access online appointments.”
As part of the update to the vaccination strategy, Governor Mills also directed the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Department of Education to provide in the coming weeks vaccination opportunities dedicated to pre-K-12 school staff who are eligible for vaccination within the age categorizations.
To date, Maine has administered 328,357 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, 217,667 people, or 16.19 percent of residents, have gotten first doses with 110,690 people, or 8.23 percent of residents, having received both doses.
All eligible Maine residents are required to make an appointment in advance of receiving the vaccine. Because it takes time to implement changes in eligibility, newly eligible people should hold on calling for appointments until next week. For information on Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy, visit: maine.gov/covid19/vaccines, which includes a list of vaccination sites across Maine with information on scheduling options.