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Maine's 2nd COVID-19 Vaccine Allotment Slashed By 40%

Northern Light Health
A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Maine is among states across the country that will receive fewer doses than expected of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine next week.

The Mills administration says Operation Warp Speed notified the state late Wednesday that its allocation would drop by nearly 40%. The last minute change means that residents and staff at assisted living facilities will have to wait a bit longer for their shot at a vaccine.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 in Maine started this week with a bang as hospitals rolled out clinics and rapidly administered shots to frontline staff. But the week is ending with a setback — the news that the state’s next allocation for the Pfizer vaccine is much smaller than expected.

During a news briefing Friday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah announced that the government initially estimated that Maine would receive 13,650 doses in its second Pfizer allocation.

“A few days ago we learned that that estimate had been lowered, significantly, from 13,650 down to 8,775,” he says.

That’s a nearly 40% drop, and Shah says it means Maine won’t have enough doses to fully launch a program to vaccinate residents and staff of all long-term care facilities. The federal government requires that states have at least half of the doses needed before the program is activated. Shah says Maine’s allocation no longer meets that threshold.

“Which means that, for example, some individuals and staff who live in assisted living and other long-term care facilities may not start their vaccine clinics for another week,” he says.

The Mills administration says it received no explanation from Operation Warp Speed for the reduction in its Pfizer allotment. Many other states have also had their allocations reduced, and Pfizer released a statement Thursday in response saying there are no production issues with the vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed.

In fact, Pfizer says there are “millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

Assisted living facility operators in Maine, meanwhile, are expressing disappointment.

“I think Operation Warp Speed has come to a halt,” says David Sinclair, executive director of Scarborough Terrace. “For us to get excited and then kinda get let down, it’s like a kid at Christmas. Where you’re like all excited for this toy and you never get to open it, because Mom and Dad didn’t get it for you. So you’re kinda disappointed.”

At Schooner Estates in Auburn, Director of Operations John Rice says the delay is disheartening for residents and staff.

“They get discouraged when there’s a little bit of a setback like this, and they just need to feel like we’re moving forward, moving toward a resolution of the virus, and feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

While the reduced allocation is a setback for assisted living, vaccination at skilled nursing facilities is still on track to begin Monday. And hospitals are also receiving an unexpected boost. They’re getting the 2,500 doses that would have gone to assisted living facilities had there been enough to activate that program.

Shah says he doesn’t know yet whether Maine’s third allocation will also be reduced, but he says clarity is critical for planning.

“We’d like to know if there are these kinds of expected shifts to be coming. These crests and peaks and valleys in the allocation,” he says.

One other peak was the recent discovery that hospitals are able to extract at least one extra dose from every Pfizer vaccine vial. That’s a 20 percent increase, but Shah says it’s not enough to make up for next week’s 40 percent loss.