Vaccine sites in Maine gear up for busiest week to date

Eric Russell, Portland Press Herald, Maine
·4 min read

Apr. 2—Vaccination sites across Maine are gearing up for increased traffic next week as eligibility opens to anyone over the age of 16.

With a significant boost in doses expected next week and in subsequent weeks, Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that all residents over 16 can get a vaccine beginning Wednesday, April 7. Interest surged in the 24 hours that followed that announcement.

As of noon Friday, the state's VaccinateME system had 94,367 enrollees, nearly triple what it was a week ago shortly after the initial rollout. Of those, 13,663 signed up on Thursday, compared to 5,316 registrants on Wednesday. That site is meant to connect individuals with available clinics in their area but does not supplant existing sites.

At Northern Light Health, website traffic increased substantially shortly after registration was opened to all adults. Thursday alone, more than 33,000 people accessed the site, according to spokesman Andrew Saucier.

"Our registration site continues to perform as expected," he said. "Vaccine supply continues to be the limiting factor. In fact, as of 3 p.m. Friday, very few appointments remain available."

At MaineHealth, there already were about 45,000 adults under the age of 50 pre-registered, according to spokesman John Porter.

"We don't have to do much scrambling. It's just a matter of going to a keyboard and moving a population in the queue over to the eligible list," he said.

MaineHealth still has a backlog of patients over 50, so next week's appointments are going to be targeted toward them, Porter said, but some will be available for younger individuals.

"It is true that once eligibility opens up, those 50 and older are in line with everyone else," he said. "There is always a balance here, the tension between wanting to be fair and using ethical and clinically appropriate criteria and keeping appointments full and getting shots in arms."

One thing MaineHealth is still working on, Porter said, is planning for 16 and 17-year-olds. The only vaccine approved for those under 18 is the Pfizer vaccine and those teenagers must have parental consent.

Next week, Maine's 17th week of distribution, the state will receive 54,790 doses of vaccines, a 21-percent increase over this week's allocation. That number will be supplemented with tens of thousands more doses that go directly to retail pharmacies, including Walmart/Sam's Club, Walgreens, Hannaford and now Shaw's. That additional allotment has not been finalized but it could be 40,000 or more based on projections.

Of the doses ordered by the Maine CDC, 19,890 are from Pfizer, 14,300 are from Moderna, and 20,600 are from Johnson & Johnson.

Hospitals will receive the biggest share, with 38,550 doses. MaineHealth affiliates are receiving 13,320 doses, more than half going to Maine Medical Center, which is operating the mass clinic at Scarborough Downs. Northern Light Health will get 9,790 doses, nearly two-thirds of which will go to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for their mass site at Cross Insurance Center.

Outpatient groups will receive 8,240 doses — the most ever for that category — with more than half going to Martin's Point and InterMed.

John Lamb, spokesman for InterMed, a physician-owned medical practice in Greater Portland, said patients under the age of 50 were sent emails Thursday following the governor's announcement. They will receive a follow-up email on Tuesday with instructions on scheduling a vaccine appointment.

"We have been contacting patients 50 and older for two weeks and will complete that outreach in the next few days. We also plan outreach to high-risk patients under 50," Lamb said. "Because we're still contacting and scheduling patients 50 and older, it's too early to know what percentage of next week's shipment will be used for that group or for those under 50."

Roughly half of next week's doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which doesn't have any cold storage requirements, is going to independent pharmacies, public safety agencies and outpatient groups.

Among independent pharmacies, Fairfield Pharmacy is getting 2,000 doses, more than half of all doses to that category. Somerset County has the lowest percentage of vaccinated individuals of any Maine county.

As of Friday morning, 734,627 doses had been administered in Maine. Of those, 446,037 were first doses, accounting for one-third of the state's population. The other 288,590 doses are final doses, which means 21.5 percent of Maine people are fully vaccinated. On Thursday, the state set a record with 21,829 shots.

Nearly 75 percent of Mainers age 70 and older — the group at highest risk of death or hospitalizations — has been fully vaccinated, along with just over 30 percent of residents in their 60s.

Still, there remains a wide disparity between counties. In Lincoln County, for instance, 40 percent of residents have gotten at least one dose. In Somerset County, just under 25 percent have. Heavily populated Androscoggin County, which includes Lewiston/Auburn, has the lowest rate of fully vaccinated people — 15.9 percent.