Editorial: Picking up steam

While the COVID-19 vaccination effort lurches forward nationwide, Maine is doing well with what it’s got — at least compared to other states.

So far, Maine has used roughly half of the 96,475 doses it has been given. As of Sunday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 48,937 people in Maine (roughly 3.6 percent of the population) had received their first dose of vaccine and 5,620 also had received a second dose. There might be some lag in that data because pharmacies administering vaccines in long-term care facilities have up to 72 hours to report when a dose has been given. Even so, Maine is one of the fastest states in the country in its vaccine rollout. We’re a far cry from herd immunity, but it’s a start.

During a briefing last Friday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the state is at the point where doses are going out the door and into arms very quickly — although he wishes the state were receiving more in its shipments from the federal government. More than 4,000 shots were administered daily in Maine on Jan. 6 and 7. Vaccines allocated to retail pharmacies for use in long-term care facilities have not all been used, but that was anticipated, Shah said. Maine dedicated the vaccines for the program up front, but the plan is for pharmacies to distribute them over several weeks, offering three clinics at each facility.

With the anticipated vaccine shipment this week, the fifth week in Maine’s rollout, the state remains squarely in Phase 1A of its plan. The group includes about 130,000 Maine frontline health-care workers and nursing home residents. Hancock County residents have been among the lucky few to receive vaccines, with some hospital staff and EMS workers proudly posting on social media photos of Band-Aids on their arms. The Bar Harbor Fire Department and Peninsula Ambulance Corps are leading the charge to vaccinate EMS workers before moving on (when there are doses available) to firefighters and police.

Phase 1B will be more challenging because it includes members of the general public — those age 75 and older — as well as frontline essential workers. Many Mainers are eager to get on the list, if only there were a list to get onto. Older residents calling their doctors’ offices have been told to wait. Until when is the question of the day. The Portland Press Herald reported Sunday that it is unclear how Maine will ever reach its goal of vaccinating 50,000 people per week from the current rate of about 12,000.

State officials have suggested there may eventually be an online tool where Mainers can register, but that has yet to launch. Also, many older residents may not be internet savvy or even have internet at all. How will they be reached? Mass drive-through vaccination clinics could put a lot of shots in a lot of arms, but those individuals would need to later return for a second dose — a logistical challenge. The effort will require massive coordination between the CDC, health-care facilities and pharmacies already stretched thin by the pandemic. The federal government needs to deliver on its promises in terms of the number of vaccines allocated to the states, but the local distribution network is as critical as the vaccine itself.

The price of going too slowly is high. As of Sunday, the state has recorded 29,611 cumulative cases of COVID-19 and 438 deaths, including 23 in Hancock County.

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