Maine’s dentists could be added to the group of health professionals giving COVID-19 vaccines, assisting in the massive undertaking to immunize the state’s population from the deadly virus.

“Dentists give thousands of injections every year,” said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, an Augusta dentist. “We are very comfortable with a needle.”

While the health care workers who typically give vaccinations – nurses, pharmacists and doctors – will still be doing so as the COVID-19 vaccine effort rolls out, the scale of the operation is making planners consider other health care professionals. Maine already is going to be asking paramedics to help administer the vaccine, with the goal of eventually immunizing most of Maine’s 1.3 million people. Dentists could add up to 765 people to the vaccination workforce.

The Maine Dental Association sent a letter to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to offer vaccination services.

“As Maine moves forward in its unprecedented campaign to vaccinate residents against COVID-19, on behalf of the Maine Dental Association and its 765 member dentists, I ask that you consider utilizing the skill and services of dentists in this crucial effort,” Dr. David Kerr, president of the MDA, said in the Dec. 8 letter.

The Maine Dental Hygienist’s Association is drafting a similar letter offering to help vaccinate Maine people in 2021, said Sarah Clark, president of the MDHA.

Angela Westhoff, executive director of the Maine Dental Association, said on Tuesday that when they realized giving vaccines will be an “all hands on deck” operation for Maine, dentists felt it was important to help if needed.

“We are happy to help if there’s a role,” Westhoff said.

Shenkin said he believes Maine is “going to need as many people as possible to give the vaccine.”

Westhoff said Gov. Janet Mills would need to issue an executive order temporarily permitting dentists to give vaccinations, as immunizing patients is not currently part of the scope of practice for a dentist’s license.

Westhoff said they haven’t heard back from the state. Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said in an email response to questions that it’s too early to say whether dentists will be part of the program.

“We appreciate the dentists’ offer, but we can’t make decisions on how they could factor into a public vaccination program until we receive more specific information from manufacturers and the federal government on the pace and volume of vaccine allotments to Maine, funding, approval of the Moderna vaccine, and other key matters,” Long said.

The rollout of the first two approved vaccines – developed by Pfizer and Moderna – is expected to take several months. The first doses arrived this week, and Maine could receive about 75,000 doses by the end of December. But the larger-scale operation is expected to begin in 2021, with hundreds of thousands and eventually, millions, of doses coming to Maine to be doled out to pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals and for large-scale immunization clinics.

Shenkin said the situation is fluid, but up to 20 states either already permit dentists to give vaccines, or have issued or are considering issuing emergency rules allowing dentists to do so. New Hampshire and Connecticut have issued emergency rules adding dentists to the group of health care professionals who can immunize patients.

Shenkin said he sees dentists’ role as helping out at community vaccination clinics, similar to flu clinics that are sometimes held at community centers or hospitals.

He said it might be possible later to have COVID-19 vaccines, or maybe other vaccines, such as the flu shot, available at some dentist’s offices.

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