ELLSWORTH — Maine residents are receiving the COVID-19 vaccination — but slowly, as the supply of doses trickles into the state. However, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several Northern Light hospitals, including in Ellsworth and Blue Hill, are scheduling vaccination appointments for those 70 years of age and older as part of Phase 1B of Maine’s vaccination plan.
But getting through may take time.
“Keep trying,” Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said on Jan. 19.
Because vaccination supplies are limited, there are limited appointments, and available slots fill up quick. Worse, 35 facilities received Moderna vaccination doses on Jan. 18 that had exceeded the storage temperature requirement at some point in their journey to Maine, as measured by an electronic temperature monitoring system on each shipment. The total doses affected were 4,400, none were administered, and replacements were coming in the following day, Maine CDC Executive Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.
Those eligible to register for a vaccine appointment can do so through the Maine CDC online portal or by calling the phone number for the hospital listed on the vaccination site list at maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites.
For Northern Light hospitals, only online scheduling is available, said Communications Director Kelley Columber.
“At this time, we are unable to register patients by phone,” she said. “We hope to have a phone registration line up next week and will share that phone number when it’s ready.” The portal is at covid.northernlighthealth.org/publicvaccine.
With many people experiencing difficulty reaching vaccination hospital sites by telephone, or in finding an available appointment online, Shah noted, “You may get a phone call before you were able to get through,” as health-care facilities reach out to patients.
The Maine CDC advises those receiving their first vaccination dose to schedule an appointment for a second dose at the same time and at the same facility. A second dose is required for the vaccine to be effective.
In the five-day period from Friday, Jan. 15, to Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Maine CDC reported 58 deaths from COVID-19. Five of these occurred in Hancock County. As of Wednesday, 530 Maine residents have died from COVID-19.
During that same five-day period, 11,123 Mainers received their vaccination, for a total of 81,355 vaccination doses administered, according to Maine CDC data. Of that number, 12,441 have received their second, final dose.
Mainers are receiving vaccinations in phases, with Phase 1A well underway as Phase 1B begins. Apart from those 70 years of age and above, Phase 1B also includes those who are at high risk for serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19, first responders such as law enforcement and firefighters, correctional officers and additional health-care workers. Phase 1B is expected to be completed by April, according to information released by the Maine CDC on Jan. 15.
To administer the vaccine to large-scale groups like Phase 1B — Governor Janet Mills noted last week that there are 193,000 residents 70 years of age and older — clinics will be created that can handle mass vaccinations. For the general population, vaccines will be available by spring or summer, Mills said.
Northern Light hospitals have administered over 10,000 vaccine doses so far. As Maine receives the vaccine in greater numbers, with more hands needed to administer the doses, Northern Light will collaborate with nursing schools, pharmacy schools and other training sites for help.
“There’s a significant number of students who could assist,” Northern Light Senior Vice President Paul Bolin said. “We know that we’ll need more people, and we’re working quickly to ensure we have that number of staff.”
With about 1.4 million residents to be vaccinated, “our biggest challenge is the amount of vaccines we’re receiving,” he added.
Shah also reported an outbreak of six COVID-19 cases at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital on Jan. 15, with no additional cases reported so far. The Maine CDC continues to investigate that outbreak, Shah said. Outbreaks at hospitals and health-care facilities “conjures up concerns,” he added, but like all workplaces, staff can unknowingly bring the coronavirus into the facility from outside the hospital.
With those under 18 years of age not eligible to receive the vaccine, remote and hybrid school learning plans remain in place in many schools, including Ellsworth. Lambrew noted that positive cases in schools are running about 25 percent of the statewide rate and protocols are continually being reviewed.
“We take seriously our obligation to keep schools open,” she said.