Apr. 7—Vaccine shipments to the state of Maine will decline next week, even as the state battles to contain a wave of new COVID-19 cases driven largely by younger people.
Of the 401 new cases reported Wednesday, nearly half were among people under age 30. Maine's seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases rose above 300 for the first time in more than two months.
The state learned that it's expected to receive a nearly 50-percent reduction in vaccine doses next week, entirely because of fewer available doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, it's still possible that the decrease could be made up through an increase in doses to retail pharmacies in Maine. Those allocations won't be finalized until the weekend.
Wednesday marked the 9th consecutive day that new cases topped 200, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the second time in six days that 400 or more cases have been reported, although in each case it's likely that not all of the new cases occurred in the previous 24 hours.
"In recent days, the number of new positive test results ... that are being reported to Maine CDC every day exceeds what we are able to review and analyze within a 24-hour period," Dr. Nirav Shah, the agency's director, said Tuesday. "As a result of that, the number of cases that I am reporting ... does not necessarily reflect the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Maine in the past 24 hours."
At any rate, new cases are clearly rising rapidly. Two weeks ago, the average was 197 cases and this time last month it was 166. The state's positivity rate for PCR tests now averages 3 percent over the last 7 days, more than double the rate from one month ago.
Among new cases Wednesday, 195 were in people under the age of 30, while just 16 new cases were individuals 70 or older. Over the last 30 days, 3,065 of 7,072 new COVID-19 cases in Maine have been among those under 30, or 43 percent. Just 331 cases, or 4.7 percent, have been in those 70 or older.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has tracked 52,677 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 747 people have died with the virus, according to data from the Maine CDC. One additional death was reported Wednesday, and there have been 41 deaths in the last month.
Hospitalizations decreased slightly to 78 on Wednesday, from 82 just two days ago. Of those, 31 are in critical care and eight are on a ventilator. In all, 1,711 people have been hospitalized at some point during the pandemic.
Cases have been trending upward in many other states as well, as the country races to vaccinate as many people as possible to keep the latest surge at bay. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, five states — New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — accounted for 44 percent of new infections between March 29 and April 4. Those states also have high case totals of coronavirus variants, particularly the strain that was first detected in the United Kingdom, which has become dominant in many European countries.
Maine has detected 15 cases of that variant so far, although the number is likely much higher because only about 5 percent of positive cases are sequenced to see if they match a variant.
Meanwhile, vaccination sites continue their busiest week to date. As of Wednesday morning, Maine had administered 797,157 shots of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Of those, 471,637 were first doses, accounting for 41.9 percent of the population 16 and over, and 325,520 were final doses, representing 28.9 percent of the 16-and-over population.
Maine ranks 4th among states for percentage of population with at least one dose, according to a Bloomberg News tracker, behind two other New England states — Connecticut and New Hampshire — and New Mexico.
Among Mainers over the age of 60, who are most at risk of dying from or being hospitalized with COVID-19, approximately 74 percent have received at least one shot and 57 percent are fully vaccinated. At the current pace of vaccinations, 75 percent of the state's population could be vaccinated in about two months. That's considered the general threshold for herd immunity.
The state is on track to receive more than 90,000 vaccine doses for use this week, which is the highest weekly total to date and a big reason why Gov. Janet Mills moved up the eligibility date for all adults by nearly two weeks.
However, next week could see a reduction. According to allocations posted on the U.S. CDC website, the Maine CDC is eligible to receive 36,690 doses next week, down from 54,790 this week and the state's lowest weekly total in a month. The Pfizer and Moderna allocations are identical to this week but the Johnson & Johnson total decreased from 20,600 to just 2,500 doses.
The unknown, though is how many additional doses Maine will get through a federal partnership with retail pharmacies. The Biden administration has touted that partnership and large numbers of Johnson & Johnson vaccine are being directed there. This week, Maine received 34,190 doses for the retail pharmacy program and 21,100 of them were Johnson & Johnson.
Those 18 or older can receive any of the three vaccines, but for 16- and 17-year-olds, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized. Those doses also require cold storage and have been distributed almost exclusively to hospital groups, such as MaineHealth, Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare. Parental consent also is required for those under the age of 18.
Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident commander for Northern Light Health, said at a media briefing Wednesday that he was encouraged to see eligibility open to all Mainers 16 and older. He said he saw many young people at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, one of the state's mass vaccination sites.
But Jarvis also cautioned people to remain vigilant for the next several weeks.
"The pandemic is far from over. We've lost too many Mainers who could not get vaccinated in time," he said.
On Tuesday, Maine health commissioner Jeanne Lambrew announced a partnership between the state and federal government to conduct several mobile vaccination clinics in an effort to reach underserved communities in rural Maine. The first clinic will be at Oxford Casino from April 12-16 and others will follow in locations across the state, including Fryeburg, Turner, Old Town, Milbridge, Calais and Madawaska. Appointments are required and the clinics are expected to administer 250 shots per day of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.