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Janet Mills: Maine Will Get About A Third Of The COVID-19 Vaccine Doses It Expected

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A member of the National Guard assisting at a COVID-19 mobile testing location fills out paperwork for a motorist arriving for a test Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Auburn, Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills says the federal government has severely reduced Maine’s allocation for a COVID-19 vaccine.

During a news briefing Wednesday, Mills said that Maine will receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine for around 12,000 people — about a third of what the state was expecting, enough for about 30,000-36,000 people.

Vaccines could arrive in Maine as early as mid-December, if they’re approved by the FDA. That’s clearly good news, Mills says. But it’s also coupled with the bad news, which she received during a phone call this week with other governors and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“Far less than what is needed for Maine,” Mills said.

That’s because the supply covers only a little more than half of the nearly 20,000 health care workers considered high risk and first priority for the vaccine.

Mills said Maine is not alone in receiving a far lower allocation than expected. She said she asked about it on the call with Secretary Azar.

“Other governors chimed in with the same questions. They wanted to know, ‘Is anyone getting short changed? Is one state getting favorable treatment over another?’” she said.

What makes the reduced allocation even more challenging is that Maine is adding nursing home residents and staff to its top priority tier for vaccine distribution, following recommendations made Tuesday by the U.S. CDC. That’s another 15,000 people or so, said Rick Erb of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents nursing facilities.

“We’re concerned about getting enough vaccine as quickly as possible,” he said.

Erb said it’s difficult to prioritize different people within nursing homes because anyone who comes through a facility’s doors can potentially bring the virus in with them.

“I think it’s a little harder for us to differentiate which types employees would come first. It will basically be all staff and residents. Whether they will all be done at the same time, we don’t know yet. There will be a lot of argument to be made that it’s going to be most efficient if they’re all done at the same time,” he said.

Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine CDC said vaccine distribution will be a balancing act, and risk will be the guiding principle when deciding exactly which hospital workers, nursing home residents and staff will be first in line.

“Right now we’re trying to determine whether we can figure out those employees — in which hospitals, as well as nursing homes — that have higher risk, and start our processes there,” he said.

One other challenge Maine and other states are facing is that they will have to bear some of the cost of distributing the vaccine, which Mills said she learned on the call with Azar.

“Which is a concern, especially when it comes to training public health nurses and others to administer the vaccine,” she said.

But the biggest blow, Mills said, is the reduced number of doses. And state officials say they’re pressing the federal government for more answers.

Mills’ vaccine news came as Maine surpassed 12,000 cumulative cases of COVID-19.

The state CDC reported 232 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 12,208. And four more people with the disease died, bringing the total number of deaths 218.

This story was originally published at 9:26 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.