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All Maine adults can now get COVID-19 booster shots, Gov. Mills announces

FILE- Maureen Giffen administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Josh Gray in a community center on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, Friday, March 19, 2021.
Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
FILE- Maureen Giffen administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Josh Gray in a community center on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, Friday, March 19, 2021.

All Maine adults are now eligible for COVID-19 booster shots. Gov. Janet Mills made the announcement Wednesday morning as the state CDC reported a record number of new daily cases and hospitalizations. Maine now joins at least four other states that have expanded eligibility for boosters.

On Wednesday, daily COVID-19 numbers in Maine soared to a record 1,042 cases. And hospitalizations hit 280 — the fifth time in a week a new record has been set. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the surge, combined with colder weather that's sending people indoors, puts all residents, even those who are vaccinated, at risk. That's why boosters are needed, despite a vaccination rate of 71% that's among the best in the nation.

"Because we vaccinated a lot of people, and we did so early on, the potential for some drop in effect may be more pronounced here in Maine than perhaps in other states. That's where boosters come in," Shah said.

The Mills Administration's decision comes just days before the federal government is expected to authorize boosters for all adults. But Shah said Maine didn't want to wait. Now, adults who either got their initial shots from Pfizer or Moderna six months ago or the single dose Johnson and Johnson two months ago can get a booster. Shah said Maine has plenty of supply, but getting an appointment may take a few days.

"It may take vaccine providers just a little bit of time to adapt their it system to scrap the previous criteria for booster eligibility, and just replace it with the new question," Shah said.

Public health officials continue to stress how important it is that unvaccinated Mainers get immunized, but the hope is that boosters will alleviate the capacity crunch that hospitals face, by reducing the number of breakthrough Covid cases.

"We've had days where we've had some of our rural hospitals, have over half the patients- over half of the patients in them are sick with Covid," said Dr. Dora Mills of MaineHealth, which operates eight hospitals including Maine Medical Center.

Mills says most COVID-19 patients continue to be from rural areas, especially the western counties of Somerset, Franklin, and Oxford.

"Their vaccination rates run about 60 to 61%, compared with Cumberland County," she said. "With Cumberland County, the vaccination rate for the whole population is 81%. That's a big difference."

Officials from Northern Light Health said they're also seeing more COVID-19 patients in their rural hospitals. State health commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the Mills Administration is providing support to hospitals, including the deployment of volunteers through the Maine Responds program. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 500 people have volunteered, but Lambrew said more are needed.

"We do urge Maine people who have some experience in a health care setting to sign up," Lambrew said.

With Thanksgiving a week away, Shah expects even more transmission of COVID-19 as people gather. He's urging people to take concrete steps to minimize risk.

"The first, is to have a hard conversation with individuals who may be coming who are not yet vaccinated to see if they're willing to get a shot," Shah said.

Shah also advised getting a rapid antigen test, spending as much time outdoors as possible or keeping windows open. And, while people may not want to do it, he said, wearing a mask at holiday gatherings might make sense.