BAR HARBOR — With rising COVID-19 case numbers and the delta variant breakthrough infections of vaccinated people, the staff at Mount Desert Island Hospital hosted another virtual town hall meeting to inform residents of statistics, different variants and vaccination efforts.
“As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Maine hospitals are full. There are five ICU beds available as of today (Sept. 7). While ICU admissions rise, health leaders across the state are calling on all of us, all of Maine communities and all of MDI’s community to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said MDI Hospital President Chrissi Maguire, who added that the island has seen an increase in positive cases.
In August, there were 23 positive test results at MDI Hospital – the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. “The total positive cases tested at Mount Desert Island local hospital is at 100,” said Maguire, noting that according to the Maine CDC, as of Sept. 7, the total for Hancock County stood at 1,205 confirmed cases. “MDI Hospital has only tested three [positives] so far for the month of September,” she added.
Julias Krevans, a doctor of internal medicine at the hospital, says the delta variant is much to blame for the rise in infections. The delta variant “has some changes to the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to your cells,” he said. These changes in the spike protein, he continued, have had two distinct effects – it’s more effective at binding to your body, so it can produce more viruses and it can spread better than the original variant, and it makes it harder for antibodies to be recognized, even if someone has previous antibodies from infection or vaccine.
Hospital staff has made it clear that vaccinated people are still getting the virus and that an unvaccinated person is three times more likely to infect someone with COVID-19.
Trevor Casey, the hospital’s vice president of Innovation and Experience, said the White House announced that booster shots can be administered as of Sept. 20. The CDC is recommending that people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised receive an additional dose.
“We do believe that the Pfizer vaccine will be approved for boosters sometime this month. The FDA is currently doing an independent review of this information,” Casey said.
Krevans said that people who have received their second vaccine will need to wait a minimum of eight months to receive a booster dose. “It’s going to be a slow process based on the date you received your first vaccines, and people who have received the J&J are not authorized at the moment to take the third vaccine,” he said.
Hospital employees explained that vaccines should be available for children ages 12 and under by Thanksgiving.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that the booster vaccines won’t be approved, but it will probably be delayed… once we do have a date and have the ability to move forward, we will be putting out a lot of information,” Casey said.
Maguire said that the island is showing 90 to 95 percent vaccination rate.
“The vaccine is excellent but it’s not perfect; most of the virus spreading here is due to one local person interacting with another person,” said Krevans.
“While cases continue to rise, we are asking you from MDI Hospital to continue to get vaccinated if you haven’t already and wear a mask when indoors,” said Maguire.