News Feature

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Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 26, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, March 26, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, March 26, 2021
COVID-19 vaccine options increase
Eligibility to expand on April 19

by Leslie Landrigan

More COVID-19 vaccination clinics are opening in and around the Blue Hill peninsula and islands, as the state prepares to let every Mainer 16 and older get vaccinated starting April 19.

Already 27.5 percent of Maine residents have had at least one shot, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a news conference. Two out of three Mainers age 60 and older have gotten one dose, he said. So have 79 percent of those 70 and older.

Shah was speaking on March 23, the day Maine residents aged 50 and older became eligible for the vaccine. Of the 197,000 Mainers between the ages of 50 and 59, 33,000 have already gotten at least one shot, he said. That’s because they’re educators, child-care workers, health-care workers or lucky enough to be around a clinic when extra doses became available.

“As we move into the 30s, 40s and 50s, expect more types of clinics to open up,” Shah said.

Where to get vaccinated

Locally, pop-up clinics will be run by Northern Light Homecare and Hospice on April 7 in Stonington and on April 21 in Sedgwick. Stonington will also hold clinics for people to get their second shots on April 1 and April 15. The clinics are not limited to local residents, but they are limited to people who live in Maine.

The pop-up clinics happen when vaccine is available, said Jacqueline Welsh, director of philanthropy and community relations at Northern Light Health. “A lot of the communities have reached out to us, and we’ve reached out to them,” she said in a phone interview. A pop-up clinic will be held at the Deer Isle town offices sometime in April, pending approval, she said. Any town interested in hosting such a clinic should call Northern Light Homecare and Hospice, Welsh said.

In addition to the pop-up clinics, Northern Light will open the Hancock County Community Vaccination Clinic in early April at the former Family Dollar store in Ellsworth, according to a news release. The clinic will vaccinate between 500 and 750 people a day.

Once the Hancock County clinic launches in Ellsworth, Maine Coast Hospital will stop giving vaccines. But Northern Light plans to keep giving vaccinations at Blue Hill Hospital.

On April 19, there will still be two groups that can’t get vaccinated: children and some teenagers. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for teenagers 16 and older, but the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines only for people 18 and older, according to the U.S. CDC.

Educators get vaccinated

The federal government ships vaccine directly to several national chains—including Walgreens, Walmart and Hannaford.

On March 2, President Joe Biden ordered retail pharmacies to vaccinate only teachers, child-care workers and school staff of all ages.

The next day, Maine Gov. Janet Mills ordered all of Maine’s vaccine clinics to give priority to school staff and licensed child-care workers.

Most local educators took up the opportunity to get vaccinated, though no school made it mandatory, according to school officials.

Locally, 127 of 143 School Union 76 employees have gotten one or both of their shots, according to Superintendent Christ Elkington in an email. Those include teachers, substitutes, coaches and private contractors who work in the schools.

At the Brooklin School, 18 of 21 employees have been vaccinated. In Sedgwick, 22 of 25, and in the Deer Isle schools, 81 of 91. All central office staff have been vaccinated as well, Elkington said. Those who haven’t either don’t want it or are waiting for when they’re ready, he said.

School Union 93 had its own vaccination clinic run by the Peninsula Ambulance Corps at the Blue Hill Fire Station on March 12, according to Superintendent Mark Hurvitt in a phone interview. One hundred doses of the vaccine were administered, he said. Other teachers and staff made their own arrangements, and he estimates at least 70 percent of the staff has had a shot.

At George Stevens Academy, nearly all the 75-person staff has either made an appointment or gotten a shot, said Head of School Tim Seeley. He knows of 10 who have not yet made appointments, but two are teachers in quarantine who haven’t been able to, he said in a phone interview.

What still isn’t known

People who’ve been fully vaccinated—that is, 14 days after their final dose—should still wear masks and practice social distancing, according to Shah. Though the vaccines are “strikingly effective,” Shah said, they’re not fully effective. That means people who’ve been vaccinated can still catch COVID-19, though their symptoms will be very mild, he said.

The U.S. CDC says it is still learning how long COVID-19 vaccines protect people.

Will letting every Maine adult get vaccinated starting on April 19 make it harder for people to get an appointment for a vaccine? That is a concern, Shah said. But Maine’s vaccine clinics can ramp up to vaccinate more people, and he’s encouraged two-thirds of people 60 and older have gotten the first shot, he said. “That puts us in a very good position on April 19 to open up in Maine,” he said.

Anne Schroth, program coordinator for Healthy Peninsula, has been helping older adults schedule vaccine appointments. “Most of the people I’ve reached out to have had it,” she said in a phone interview. “We certainly don’t have any waiting list.”

On March 26, Maine’s restrictions on gatherings will loosen. Bars can open, and restaurants and stores can fill to 50 percent of capacity. However, said Shah, the number of COVID-19 cases hasn’t accelerated significantly, and he sees no reason to pause or reverse course.