MOUNT DESERT — Over the next two days, the Maine Seacoast Mission will be holding COVID-19 vaccination clinics for people 65 and older on four of the outer islands.
They will hold the first clinic today (Thursday) on Swan’s Island. On Friday, they will go to Islesford, Great Cranberry Island and Frenchboro.
The Mission’s 74-foot vessel, the Sunbeam, will transport the vaccine and three nurses to give the shots on Friday, but the nurses will take the passenger ferry to Swan’s Island on Thursday.
The Mission, in cooperation with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention and MDI Hospital, has coordinated with health officers on the islands to provide the vaccinations so that older residents would not have to travel to MDI Hospital or farther to get their shots.
Donna Wiegle, the Swan’s Island health officer and director of the town’s health clinic, said many of the island’s older residents have signed up to be vaccinated.
“I’m looking to run about 70 people through a vaccine clinic which, logistically, is going to be challenging,” she said last week. “It’s an aggressive schedule, but I know we can do it.”
The Sunbeam will return in four weeks so people can get their second vaccine shots.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 17, just about a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the first case of the disease on Swan’s Island was confirmed.
“It is a man in his 40s,” Wiegle said. “He and his family are quarantining at home.”
Wiegle said Swan’s Island was lucky not to have had any confirmed cases before now.
“We have not had a completely compliant community as far as mask wearing and doing the right things because we have a pretty good faction of people who just don’t believe in the virus or aren’t taking it seriously,” she said. “That’s been hard to battle.”
Cari Alley, the Cranberry Isles health officer, said it is “super amazing” that older residents won’t have to leave the islands to be vaccinated.
“I want to support what the Mission is doing because anything the Mission does to support islanders is a beautiful thing.,” she said. “But I personally just want to make sure people feel like they have the information they need to make a decision. I don’t want people not to get the vaccine because they are scared, but I don’t want people to feel that they are being pressured into it.”
Alley said there are probably not many more than a dozen older people on Islesford and Great Cranberry Island combined who will be getting their shots when the Sunbeam comes Friday. That is partly because some people who are eligible have already gone to MDI Hospital to be vaccinated.
The Cranberry Isles had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 early last summer but has had fewer than a half-dozen cases altogether.
“I cannot praise the community enough, because even when we had a case, it stayed low key,” Alley said. “People did what they were supposed to do, and we have not had community spread or major issues.
“It just reiterates how people who are doing their part to keep themselves healthy are also keeping the community healthy.”
Douglas Cornman, the Seacoast Mission’s director of island outreach and the Sunbeam’s chaplain, said the effort to take the vaccine to the islands exemplifies what the Mission is all about.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to do something like this,” he said. “It’s an honor to do this work.”
Wiegle, the Swan’s Island health officer, said she spent many hours calling people who are eligible to receive the vaccine to let them know about the vaccination clinic.
“Most of them are so grateful to get their vaccine on the island,” she said.
And that is not just because of the convenience. While the vaccines are free, transportation on the Maine State Ferry between Swan’s Island and Mount Desert Island is not.
The minimum cost for a single person in a vehicle to make the round trip twice – once for each shot – would be $62. For a couple who might have vaccination appointments on different days and would pay extra for a guaranteed space on the ferry, the cost could be as high as $270.
“A lot of folks out here are living on minimum Social Security,” Wiegle said. “So, not to have to spend upward of $270 and to be able to get their vaccine here on the island and be back home in half an hour is really great.”
Alley said the mail boat ferry between the Cranberry Isles and Mount Desert Island “is not crazy expensive, but it’s not cheap.”
In addition to the cost and inconvenience, she said concerns about safety might make people think twice about taking the ferry to get vaccinated.
“The docks are high-traffic areas where people are in close proximity,” she said. “And on the ferry right now in the winter, we have to sit in a closed area with the doors shut.”
In addition to the Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro and Swan’s Island, the Mission plans to hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics on Isle au Haut, Matinicus and Monhegan.
Cornman said people on the outer islands have told him how grateful they are that the Mission is bringing the clinics to them.
“Not only does it save them money and time having to come off island, but it also means they don’t have to travel to the mainland and risk potential [coronavirus] exposure,” he said. “I can’t express the gratitude I’m hearing from them.”