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Maine's COVID-19 Vaccine Allotment Not As Dire As Initially Feared

Steve Parsons
PA Pool via AP
Matron May Parsons, right, is assessed by Victoria Parker, center, as medical staff train to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in the COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry, England, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.

The Maine CDC released more details on Friday about how many doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine the state is expected to receive once they’re approved by the FDA.

The state CDC has also identified five hospitals that will receive initial shipments.

Maine will receive 12,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in its first allocation, which will be shipped to the CDC central warehouse and to the five hospitals: Maine Medical Center and Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and AR Gould Hospital in Presque Isle.

State CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah says the hospitals were chosen based on geography and two other critical factors.

“Do they have an ultracold storage capacity?” he says.

Ultracold storage is a special requirement for the Pfizer vaccine. Also important, Shah says, is how much cold storage capacity hospitals have.

“The Pfizer vaccine comes in 975 lot dose packs, and it can’t be broken up,” he says.

One pack each will go to the CDC and the five hospitals. The remaining 6,825 doses will go to residents of long-term care facilities, which will collaborate with pharmacies to administer.

That’s just the first shipment. Shah says Maine will receive two more weekly allocations in the same amount. That’s about 38,000 doses. Because the vaccines require two doses per person, it’s enough for a little more than 19,000 people. That’s more in line with what Maine had been expecting, and a far better scenario than the severe reduction in allocation the state announced on Wednesday.

Dr. Shah says Maine’s congressional delegation helped get information on why it appeared earlier this week that Maine was getting shortchanged. One reason is Pfizer reduced the number of vaccines it expects to ship worldwide.

“We also learned that Operation Warp Speed was changing their allotment strategy. Rather than one large allotment, they were breaking it into smaller allotments,” he says.

Shah says Maine has also been informed about its allotment for the Moderna vaccine. Once it’s approved, the state is expected to receive 34,900 doses over two weeks.

Combined with the Pfizer vaccine, that means that close to 36,500 people will be vaccinated with the initial shipments Maine receives. That appears enough to cover the estimated 20,000 health care workers in high-risk settings and the 15,000 residents and staff of nursing homes who have first priority.

Still, distributing the vaccine will be a major undertaking. Jeanne Lambrew of the Department of Health and Human Services says the state is pressing the federal government for more funding.

“We’re undertaking an effort to educate people in Maine about the vaccine and about the strength of it. That’s something we don’t get federal funding for in a significant way,” she says. “We’re training people here in the state of Maine. Not really getting funding for that. We’re building IT infrastructure. Not really getting sufficient funding for that.”

As the state faces challenges with its vaccine rollout, Dr. Shah says the CDC will make decisions guided by two principles: velocity and equity.

“Every morning once we start vaccinating, whenever that is, I want to come into the office and I want to see an email indicating the answers to two questions: How many people did we vaccinate yesterday? And, more importantly, were they the right people? That’s what I want to know every single day,” he says.

The first shipments of vaccines could arrive in Maine as early as mid-December.