MOUNT DESERT — A total of 137 people – most of them over 65 – on Swan’s Island, the Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro and Isle au Haut were vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Maine Seacoast Mission’s vaccination clinics on the islands late last week.
Sixty-one of those getting shots live on Swan’s Island, where Donna Wiegle is the health officer and runs the island’s Mill Pond Health Center.
“It was fantastic,” she said of the vaccination clinic. “People could not have been happier, more grateful for the opportunity to get their vaccine out here.”
Of those getting the shots, 52 were 65 or older. Among the rest were four local firefighters, a first responder and a health care worker.
The Seacoast Mission collaborated with the Maine Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Mount Desert Island Hospital to vaccinate older people on the outer islands to save them the inconvenience and cost of going to a hospital or elsewhere on the mainland for their shots.
“We had a parking lot attendant who was making sure people waited 15 minutes in their cars after getting their shot to make sure they were OK,” Wiegle said. “And we actually vaccinated four people in their cars, people who were medically compromised or people with mobility issues who would have had a challenging time getting into the building.”
Wiegle said three of the 61 people who were vaccinated last Thursday were under 65 – one of them by just three days.
“In the end, we had three doses extra, and we were able to have three people who were under 65 who were on our on-call list to come in, so we didn’t have to waste any vaccine,” she said.
Norman Burns was one of the Swan’s Island residents who was vaccinated. He said the experience was painless – quite literally.
“I didn’t feel a thing,” he said. “I didn’t even know the nurse had done it.”
Burns said it was “a big thing” for the Mission to bring the vaccine to Swan’s Island.
“It saved people a lot of money because they didn’t have to go off the island.”
Swan’s Island resident Tom McAloon called it “a great service.”
He and his wife, Beverly, were among those who got their shots last week.
“We are so appreciative of the collaboration with the Seacoast Mission, MDI Hospital and especially Donna [Wiegle], who was really kind of the glue that brought it all together. We feel very lucky.”
Doulas Cornman, the Seacoast Mission’s director of island outreach, said that in addition to the 61 Swan’s Island residents who received the vaccine last week, 13 people were vaccinated on Great Cranberry Island, six on Islesford, 16 on Frenchboro and 41 on Isle au Haut.
The Mission will hold vaccination clinics this week on Monhegan and Matinicus.
Who was eligible?
Some have questioned why outer-island residents aged 65-69, and even younger in a few cases, could receive the COVID-19 vaccine when the Maine CDC’s vaccination policy stated that, in most cases, only people who were 70 or older were eligible to be vaccinated.
The answer is that the policy recognized the need for flexibility in certain circumstances: “The CDC will consider for approval exceptions to the policy…for unbridged islands, remote locations and other settings where the provision of vaccines to eligible individuals would be infeasible without broader eligibility.”
The CDC policy also stated: “Vials of COVID-19 vaccine contain multiple doses. Once a vial of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is opened, doses must be used within six hours; after that period of time, doses from that vial may not be used and must be discarded. Maine’s goal is that no dose goes to waste.
“The state is committed to putting every dose of the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of residents, even if that means occasional deviations from the state’s [age eligibility] phases.”
State officials announced last Friday that, as of Wednesday of this week, people as young as 60 would be eligible to receive the vaccine.