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Maine CDC Working On Online Vaccination Platform As State Adds 11 Deaths, 662 COVID-19 Cases

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Pedestrians wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in Portland, Maine.

The Maine CDC is expecting to launch a statewide COVID-19 vaccine registration system within the next several weeks after an equivalent federal system that was developed by the Trump administration turned out to not meet the state's needs. 

State health officials are also asking the public for patience and encouraging some "do's and don'ts" when trying to get an appointment for a vaccination. 

The statewide vaccine registration system will be a one-stop shop, says Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah: one phone number and website where people can register for the vaccine and get a date and time for an appointment at clinics across the state. 

"I want it to do all those things at once, rather than be piecemeal," Shah says. 

But it's a complex system to set up, and Shah says it will likely be two to four weeks before it's ready for launch. 

"I'm not thrilled about that," he says. "I know everyone in Maine is not thrilled about that. It's unacceptable, and we're working as hard as we can to get something in place."

Shah says part of the reason Maine is scrambling to create a state-based system is that a promised federal registry created by the Trump administration is not usable. 

"We were hoping that the federal solution, called VAMS, would be the one-stop shop that all states could use for every single vaccine site," he says. "We were hoping you could preregister, register, validate, consent and do everything else on the back end. It can't do any of those things, really."

Though it will be weeks before the state's version is up and running, people 70 and older can try to make appointments currently at one of dozens of sites listed on Maine's COVID-19 vaccination web page.  Many locations offer booking online. 

Both Northern Light Health and MaineHealth have also created dedicated phone lines to make appointments.  MaineHealth's Chief Health Improvement Officer, Dr. Dora Mills, says new slots open constantly as soon as doses are in hand, and people can leave their information and wait for a call back when there's an availability. 

"Once you've registered, you don't need to keep calling back. We are getting many thousands of phone calls every day. But again, a lot of them are calling repeatedly and re-registering."

Just as MaineHealth asks that people only register once, the CDC's Dr. Shah also asks that they only register at one location: "Please don't put yourself on multiple lists."

That can make each list unwieldy, and it could cause the Maine CDC to distribute doses incorrectly, because it makes allocation decisions according to demand.  In addition to registering at one location, Shah urges those seeking a shot choose that location wisely. 

"I got an email from a physician in Aroostook County over the weekend, or a hospital administrator saying, yeah, we had someone come up from York County," he says. "And when we asked them what they were going to do for their second dose, they said, 'Oh, I'm not worried about that.  I'll just get it  somewhere down south.' The system is not set up that way." 

Shah says the system is set up so that second doses are delivered to the same place in the same volume as first doses.

'So if you got your first dose in Fort Kent, and you're expecting to get your second dose in Sanford, that second dose may not be there," he says.

So if you make an appointment in a different county, says Shah, be prepared to make the trip twice.

“That platform is being built right now, so that once it’s live everyone across the state can sign up, can raise their hand to say ‘I would like to note my interest in being vaccinated,’” Shah says.

Shah says the platform won’t be ready until it can notify those in the system when a vaccine is available for them.

And Shah says, with just 8,000 doses of vaccine arriving in Maine this week, and more than 190,000 people over the age of 70, it will be many months before everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

So far, the state has administered more than 115,000 total doses.

Maine CDC reported on Tuesday that 11 more people with COVID-19 had died, and added 662 new cases of the disease.

That brings the total number of cases since the pandemic began to nearly 38,000 and total deaths to 558.