Maine close to giving 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald, Maine
·8 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Apr. 19—Maine was poised to surpass 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine injected into arms on Monday, a symbolic milestone at a time when the state is also experiencing one of the highest new infection rates in the country.

The dueling statistics highlight what public health officials often refer to as a race to vaccinate against a virus that is spreading even faster among the unvaccinated population in areas of Maine and other states.

Official figures for Monday's clinics will not be reported until Tuesday morning, but Maine was less than 3,500 doses short of eclipsing the 1 million mark as of Sunday evening. Vaccination clinics have administered between 7,000 and 13,500 doses each Monday for the past month, although the Patriot's Day holiday could impact the pace of inoculations.

Maine has been getting shots into arms faster than nearly every other state, with 42 percent of the state's 1.3 million residents having received at least one dose as of Monday and 32 percent already completing their vaccination regimen. Those figures rise to 50 percent and 38 percent, respectively, among the 16-and-older population currently eligible for vaccination.

Yet there are also concerning trends about infection rates, particularly among Mainers under age 30 and in Androscoggin County.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 260 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and two additional deaths. Although recent daily case counts vary wildly, Maine's seven-day, rolling average increased from 328 last week to 475 on Monday, which is more than triple this year's lowest average of 137 on February 20.

The two new deaths reported on Monday — both men from Oxford County, one in his 40s and the other in his 50s — increased the total COVID-linked deaths in Maine to 767. To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 57,545 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since the coronavirus was first detected in the state in March 2020.

Maine had the seventh-highest new case rate per 100,000 residents in the nation for the past week, according to both Global Epidemics program at Brown University's School of Public Health and The New York Times's COVID tracking system. The states with higher rates are Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Minnesota.

State health officials have expressed concerns about the recent surge but have also pointed out that Maine is still testing for COVID-19 — and, therefore, finding new cases — than in many other states.

The new case rate over the past week in Androscoggin County, 78.1 cases per 100,000 residents, was more than twice the statewide rate of 35.4. Androscoggin's rate is higher than more than half of the counties in Michigan — which is currently experiencing the worst surge in the nation.

A recent outbreak at Bates College, with more than 70 cases, is likely part of the reason why Androscoggin County's cases are so high. But on a statewide basis, younger Maine residents account for much of the recent surge in cases.

On Monday, 30 percent of the new cases occurred within people under age 20 and 17 percent among individuals in their 20s. Public health experts attribute the trend to a combination of factors, including more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, increased social gatherings among unmasked individuals and other higher-risk activities.

MORE THAN 50 PERCENT VACCINATED

Maine and New Mexico had the highest percentages of fully vaccinated people in the U.S. as of Monday, according to tracking by Bloomberg News, and Maine trailed only New Hampshire and Connecticut in terms of the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose.

Health care providers had administered 996,602 total doses to individuals in Maine as of Sunday evening. Roughly 42 percent of the state's population of 1.3 million residents — and just over 50 percent of those age 16 or older who are now eligible for vaccination — have received at least one shot of vaccine.

Nearly 32 percent of the state's population had received either both of the necessary shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson before administration of that vaccine was paused last week to allow federal health officials to investigate extremely rare cases of blood clots.

The federal government's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to review and potentially make a decision about the J&J vaccine this Friday. Over the weekend, the nation's top infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted the single-dose vaccine would likely return but may be accompanied by additional warnings about the still extremely rare risk of blood clots.

There are now hundreds of sites in Maine offering vaccinations, from the high-volume clinics operated by hospital networks like MaineHealth and Northern Light Health to major retail pharmacies and supermarket chains. A complete list of vaccination sites is available at www.maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites or individuals can call the state's Community Vaccination Line at 1-888-445-4111.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in a message posted on Twitter on Monday morning that there are still appointment slots available for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week at the mobile vaccination unit located at the Windham Mall. Operated jointly by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state, the mobile clinic is currently offering shots with the Moderna vaccine. Individuals can book appointments by calling 1-888-445-4111.

On Sunday, Gov. Janet Mills marked the symbolic milestone of Maine surpassing the 50 percent mark for eligible residents who have received at least one shot of vaccine.

"This is the biggest vaccination effort in our history and one of the largest logistical challenges in generations. This milestone is a testament to the teamwork of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine CDC, the Maine National Guard, our health care providers and volunteers across the state, who are working around the clock to protect Maine people from COVID-19," Mills said in a statement.

"As a result of their efforts, and because Maine people are rolling up their sleeves to do their part, more than half of Maine residents age 16 and older have now received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than a third are fully vaccinated," Mills said. "We will continue our efforts to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. I encourage all everyone to get vaccinated so that we can defeat this virus and its variants and get back to normal as soon as possible."

Vaccine shipments to the Maine CDC were expected to decrease slightly this week, falling 230 doses to a total of 36,460. The decline is largely due to federal regulators pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while investigators look into the possible connection between blood clots and the vaccine.

The total number of doses will likely be closer to 50,000 this week, however, because doses are tracked and shipped separately to retail pharmacies and community health clinics. A total of 11,820 doses — about 2,600 fewer than last week — were expected to be sent to pharmacies in Maine operated by Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, Good Neighbor, MedShoppe as well as Hannaford and Shaw's supermarkets.

The University of Maine System, meanwhile, announced Monday that fully vaccinated students who come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 will no longer be required to quarantine as long as the vaccinated student is asymptomatic. Vaccination is encouraged but still voluntary for UMaine students whereas at Bowdoin College and a growing number of institutions nationwide, students and staff will be required to be inoculated against COVID-19 before returning to campus for the fall semester.

NATIONWIDE EXPANSION

Monday also marked a significant shift in the national vaccination strategy as residents of every state age 16 or older became eligible for inoculation. During a briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team, officials said "it has never been easier to get a shot."

"If you still think it's too difficult to get your vaccine, here's what you need to know: the lack of supply, the shortage of locations, the confusing rules are all in the past," said Andy Slavitt, the White House's senior advisor for COVID-19 response. "That cannot be said enough. Thanks to the aggressive action taken by many and the collaboration of so many people across the country, there are now thousands of more people ready to help you get vaccinated, there are now millions more vaccine doses available and waiting, and there are now more than 60,000 safe and convenient places for you to get your shot."

But case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths are still creeping upward nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the seven-day average of new cases across the country increased to 66,702 compared to roughly 53,000 a month ago and the number of COVID-related deaths rose for the sixth consecutive day.

Hospitalizations in Maine have also increased in recent weeks. There were 105 individuals hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 on Monday, up one from Sunday, while 32 people were in critical care units and 14 were connected to ventilators. Although rising, hospitalization rates in Maine are still well below the peak figures of more than 200 seen during surge at the beginning of the year.

Federal officials said Monday that they have received reports of less than 6,000 "breakthrough" cases — in which a fully vaccinated person subsequently contracts COVID-19 — out of more than 84 million Americans who are fully vaccinated. And 30 percent of those individuals exhibited no symptoms.

"These vaccines are working," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. CDC.