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Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 7, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, January 7, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, January 7, 2021
COVID-19 vaccination starts locally
But what happens next—and when?

by Leslie Landrigan

Local health care workers over the past few weeks have been rolling up their sleeves for their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine. They’re in the “1a” group, the first of the first Mainers to get vaccinated. Those include licensed EMTs, hospital employees and nursing home residents and staff.

Four weeks later, they’ll get their second shot.

More than 25,000 Mainers have received that first dose of vaccine since December 15, the day after the state got its first shipment, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But as more vaccine arrives and the state expands the categories of people to receive vaccinations, questions begin to arise. How do doctors and nurses unaffiliated with hospitals get vaccinated? What about residents of very small group homes?

More questions

There are even more questions for the people who may or may not be in the second category, which the state calls “1b.” The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has said on its website that people 75 and older will be in the 1b group. Perhaps that will change, however. On January 4, Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said the state hasn’t yet determined the age cutoff for the 1bs.

“We may start with the oldest or the most likely to be exposed,” said Shah in a virtual news conference. “No decisions have been made.”

The questions then becomes: How do I find out? Who will contact me? Is it the local provider or is it the CDC through the media? Do the pharmacies do it? Do I wait in line?

Those questions still don’t have answers, according to Shah.

One answer might be that people find out through their health care system, Shah said. Or, he said, they might find out through his own thrice-weekly news conferences. Or maybe through their employer.

“That is a question on everybody’s mind,” Shah said. “‘How do I know’”?

Local vaccinations

Among those looking for answers are doctors and nurses who aren’t affiliated with hospitals and very small group homes, said Andy Sankey, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency. The CDC liaison office for Hancock and Washington counties has been inundated with questions from those groups, Sankey said.

Licensed EMTs do have an answer. The state assigned the Peninsula Ambulance Corps (PAC) in Blue Hill and the Bar Harbor Fire Department to vaccinate health care workers and first responders in Hancock County.

Alan Henschke, PAC manager, said they’ve given shots to first responders in Brooklin and Castine, EMTs from the Memorial Ambulance and Peninsula Ambulance corps as well as other licensed paramedics.

“I’ve been told by the state only to do 1a,” Henschke said in a phone interview. Then, he said, PAC will move on to the 1bs, which include firefighters, state police, corrections officers and marine patrol officers. That won’t begin to happen for several weeks, according to Shah.

Walter Reed, director of the Memorial Ambulance Corps, said he’s “extremely pleased” that all but one of the corps’ licensed EMTs were vaccinated on January 30 and 31. “Things are getting worse rather than better,” Reed said in a phone interview. “Only through a comprehensive vaccination program are we going to be able to blunt this pandemic.”

Blue Hill Hospital

Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital is currently vaccinating all employees and expects to complete the first round of vaccination in the next few weeks, said spokesperson Kelley Columber in an email.

“We look forward to assisting in the delivery of the vaccine to our patients and the community when that time comes,” she said.

Columber noted that the health system is strongly encouraging its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, though it isn’t mandatory.

Nursing homes

Nursing homes are part of a different vaccination system. The federal government has contracted with CVS, Walgreens and other drugstore chains to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to long-term care facilities.

On January 6, Community Pharmacy was scheduled to vaccinate 62 of the residents at Parker Ridge, according to Tim Chandler, executive director. All but two residents signed up; one of those because of a medical condition, Chandler said in a phone interview.

The Island Nursing Home (INH), which lost 14 residents during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, had expected to have more than 90 percent of its residents and staff vaccinated on January 5, according to Matthew Trombley, executive director. But due to a clerical error by CVS Pharmacy, the vaccination wasn’t to take place until January 6, he said.

Trombley said he expected more than 90 percent of INH’s residents and staff to receive the vaccine.


Clerical errors aren’t the only issues causing delays in the vaccine roll out.

The state can’t predict how much vaccine it will receive every week, which makes it hard to plan a vaccine clinic for large groups, Sankey said.

He said vaccines are typically administered at a set time in a set place. But because the state has no idea how much vaccine it’s getting, he said, “it’s impossible for us to schedule a clinic, say this Saturday from 4-6 [at a local] American Legion Hall.”

Nonetheless, he said, PAC and the Bar Harbor Fire Department are being very accommodating.

“It’s everyone being kind and patient and working together in extraordinary ways to get things done,” he said.