COVID-19 vaccinations for people 70 and older are underway in Maine, marking the beginning stages of Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan. But demand for vaccines is far outstripping the state’s supply.
MaineHealth began taking appointments for people 70 and older this week, and Chief Health Improvement Officer, Dr. Dora Mills, says their call center was flooded with requests. On Monday, she says, 18,000 people tried to get a slot.
“Actually, I understand we had about 70,000 calls,” she says, “but they were from about 18,000 people.”
Of those 18,000 people, just 1,800 were able to get through and schedule appointments. That number has since grown to 5,000, and the health system opened its first clinics at Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington and Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick on Tuesday. Other locations will open clinics over the next week or so.
Northern Light Health began scheduling appointments at a few locations Monday night. A spokesperson says the health system had fewer than 1,000 slots available this week, and they went quickly.
The fact that so many people want to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a good sign, says Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have the vaccine for every single one of them today,” he says.
Or for the foreseeable future. The supply of the vaccine to Maine has been relatively flat for the past few weeks, at roughly 18,000 doses. During a news briefing Tuesday, Shah said he expects that will continue.
“Next week and perhaps even the subsequent week’s allocation will be largely flat, or, if anything, a very small, low, single-digit percentage increase,” he says.
Shah says that limited supply is the biggest roadblock to getting more clinics up and running. Currently, 19 vaccine locations are listed on a state website in 11 of Maine’s counties. In addition to low supply, Shah says setting up clinics is also a massive logistical undertaking — especially for hospitals already stressed by the pandemic.
“We have to have a way to first identify who we’re talking about. Then we have to have a way to notify those individuals, say, 70 and older, and then we have to have a system to vaccinate them,” he says.
Scheduling is a major challenge too, Shah says. Clinics have to ensure they leave time slots open a few weeks into the future so people who get their first shot can get their second one. Still, state officials say Maine will progress into Phase 1B as it continues Phase 1A.
“And that strategy of trying to have these overlapping phases is part of the reason why Maine remains highest in New England in terms of percentage of shots in arms,” says Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to a Bloomberg COVID-19 vaccine tracker, Maine has administered nearly 60 percent of its doses. It will take weeks, state officials say, to complete Phase 1A, let alone vaccinate the roughly 193,000 Mainers who are 70 and older.
Next will come people age 65 and up, then those with high-risk medical conditions and frontline essential workers. Exactly who falls under the last two categories is still being determined.
In all, nearly 69,000 first doses of vaccine have been administered so far, with more than 12,000 people receiving second doses.
Another 386 cases of COVID-19 have been reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control on Tuesday and five more people have died from the disease.
In all, more than 34,000 Mainers have been diagnosed with the disease since the pandemic began, and 519 people have died. The daily case totals have decreased since the end of last week, when over 800 cases were reported on three consecutive days.