One of Maine’s major COVID-19 mass vaccination sites will end first-dose appointments on Thursday as it moves toward a shutdown on May 27.
Northern Light Health, which operates the Cross Insurance Center mass clinic in Bangor, announced it will shift appointments to the Northern Light Health Center. The Cross Insurance Center site opened on Feb. 2, one day before MaineHealth opened the state’s second mass vaccination site at Scarborough Downs.
The winding down of operations at the Bangor arena represents a shift in vaccination strategy in Maine. As demand declines, the state is moving from vaccinating at large-scale venues to other settings, such as doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies.
“With over half of Maine’s eligible population vaccinated, it is time we shift our approach to ensure that those who have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated can continue to do so after moving out of the Cross Insurance Center,” the network said in a news release. Aside from the Cross Insurance Center and Scarborough Downs, Maine has mass vaccine clinics at the Auburn Mall, the former Marshalls in Sanford and the Portland Expo, among other locations.
Karen Cashman, a spokeswoman for Northern Light Health, said demand has declined at the Cross Insurance Center, which administered 3,100 vaccinations per day at its peak on April 3. The center did 2,500 vaccinations on Saturday with an expected 1,500 per day this week. When demand was high and appointments more scarce, some people drove from southern Maine to the Cross Insurance Center for vaccination.
Other mass vaccination sites could soon follow Northern Light’s decision to shift to smaller clinic sites.
John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, which operates the Scarborough Downs and Sanford locations, said no decisions have been made yet, but he anticipates changes in the “not-too-distant future.”
“They are still doing pretty good volume, but we have always known that they will not be running forever,” Porter said.
Meanwhile, Maine reported 245 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and one additional death.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 62,092 cases and 790 deaths.
Maine lifted all travel restrictions on Saturday, meaning visitors can come from any state without providing proof of vaccination or a negative test before arriving. Travel restrictions for certain states could be reimposed if there is a spike in cases as more tourists start flowing into Maine as the weather warms.
The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 307.9 on Monday, compared to 360.4 a week ago and 279.9 a month ago. There were 128 people in Maine hospitals with COVID-19 on Monday, including 54 in critical care.
The vaccination effort continues with more clinics now offering walk-ins. Maine reported on Monday that 638,492 people – 47.5 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents – had received at least the first dose of the vaccine. Also, 528,614 had gotten their final dose, representing 39.3 percent of the population.
Maine leads the nation in the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. Maine is fifth in the country for the percent of its population with at least the first dose. The top five are all New England states. New Hampshire leads the nation with 60.7 percent of its population receiving at least the first dose, followed by Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.
This week, Maine is receiving 55,960 doses of COVID-19 vaccine through the state vaccination program, retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and Walmart, and doses sent directly to community health clinics.
At the Fryeburg Fairgrounds, where a mobile vaccination site operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is operating this week, the location completed 165 shots on Friday, 205 on Saturday and 105 on Sunday. That’s far fewer than the approximately 550 doses per day given at the mobile site at Biddeford High School last week.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that he is “pleased” with the numbers in Fryeburg because it is a rural location and a decline in doses was expected. But he said it’s important to deliver doses to people who may otherwise have a difficult time accessing the vaccine, in part because they live in more remote areas.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and operator of a number of vaccination clinics across the state, said in a Facebook post on Sunday that vaccinations are going well, but the pandemic will linger until more people are immunized to start driving down cases.
“Some days recently it feels like we are in a station wagon headed to a family reunion and everyone in the back seat repeatedly whines, ‘Are we there yet?’ Maine in particular, and the U.S. as a whole are doing great when it comes to vaccinations,” Mills wrote, noting that young people now are getting hit the hardest with COVID-19. “It is imperative we get the vaccine to youth and young adults as soon as possible. To successfully vaccinate young people, generally access to the vaccine has to be very convenient. In other words, take the vaccine to them.”
The vaccines are approved for those 16 and older, and Pfizer is on the cusp of having its vaccine approved for ages 12-15, pending approval by federal regulators. The Pfizer vaccine could be approved for the 12-15 age group as soon as this month, federal officials have said.
Public health experts say now that vaccine supplies are more plentiful, there are two primary explanations for these gaps – access and hesitancy.
“We’ve gotten through the eager, and the willing,” said Dr. Noah Nesin, chief medical officer at Penobscot Community Health Care, a community clinic in the Bangor area that is vaccinating thousands per week. “We are working on the hesitant. The final gasp will be the resistant.”
Maine reporting 245 new cases of COVID-19, 1 additional death – Press Herald