Vaccination rates remain stagnant even as new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations decline

·3 min read

Jun. 1—The seven-day rolling averages of new daily COVID-19 cases in central and western Maine have reached the lowest levels since early March, when the most recent surge in cases began taking hold in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

State health officials Tuesday reported just 39 new cases of the disease across the state, including five cases in Androscoggin County, three in Oxford County and none in Franklin County. A death from COVID-19 has not been reported since May 26.

There are promising signs, too, in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. On Tuesday, there were 90 patients hospitalized, 30 of whom were in critical care. Twenty critical care inpatients, or two-thirds, were on a ventilator.

At Lewiston's Central Maine Medical Center, Monday and Tuesday were the first days since at least March 14 that there were no confirmed COVID-19 inpatients that required critical care. There were seven patients listed in noncritical care both days, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The daily count of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients at CMMC were in the double digits for most of April and May.

Dr. Al Teng, chief of critical care for CMMC's parent company, Central Maine Healthcare, said last week that there were more patients 50 years old and younger coming into the hospital during the most recent surge than ever before.

"Quite frankly, I can't recall a 30-year-old coming in last fall," Teng said Friday. Most of these patients have not been vaccinated, he said.

Hospitalizations are considered a lagging indicator of new cases and although new daily cases in Maine have been on a steady decline over the past week, Tuesday's seven-month low could also be a function of the number of people tested over the holiday weekend.

Maine has one of the best vaccination rates in the country. As of Tuesday, 53.3% of all Mainers have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 52.1% have completed their vaccination series.

Vaccination rates across the state and especially in the tri-county area appear to have stalled in recent weeks. Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties have been in the bottom half of the pack in terms of getting shots into arms since the beginning of the vaccination rollout.

CMHC officials said last week that it has no plans to shut down its mass vaccination site at the Auburn Mall, even as other large-scale sites across the state have shifted to smaller clinics.

Steve Costello, a spokesperson for St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, said Friday that as demand for vaccines has declined, "we do not feel that mass vaccination clinics are the need at this point."

"We think that a smaller, more targeted approach is the way forward to reach those who have not been vaccinated," he said.

In Androscoggin County, 46.3% of residents have gotten their first shots and 44.4% have gotten their final. In Franklin County, 43.3% and 44.5% of residents have gotten their first and final doses, respectively. In Oxford County, 45.4% and 43.8% of residents have gotten their first and final doses, respectively.

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