LifeFlight paramedic Luke Jackson receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday morning from registered nurse Stephanie Jacques at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Maine’s statewide COVID-19 vaccine rollout continued to expand Wednesday, with several hospitals joining the effort to inoculate front-line health care workers, and skilled nursing homes planning to begin vaccinating residents and staff members starting Monday.

At least 720 nurses, doctors and others who are at highest risk for exposure to COVID-19 had been inoculated by late afternoon Wednesday – the same day that Maine shattered its daily record with 551 new cases reported, exceeding 500 cases for the first time since the pandemic began in March.

Northern Light Health was on track to inoculate more than 125 front-line staff members in clinics held Wednesday at Mercy Hospital in Portland and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, and vaccinations will soon begin at AR Gould Hospital in Presque Isle, said Dr. James Jarvis, senior physician executive for Northern Light.

In Lewiston, Central Maine Medical Center inoculated 60 staff members on Wednesday, and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center was preparing to start vaccinating staff on Thursday. MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta also began vaccinating staff on Wednesday.

And MaineHealth added Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick to staff vaccination clinics that started Tuesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland and Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford.

By Wednesday afternoon, MaineHealth had vaccinated 535 employees who work in intensive care units and emergency departments, leading hospital officials to anticipate that they might run out of vaccine before the health care group receives additional doses expected next week.

Dr. Imad Durra receives a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday morning from nurse Deb Kiker at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. The infectious-disease doctor was the first at CMMC to receive a dose. He will receive the second one in 21 days. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Our throughput is increasing every day, so we think we may run out of vaccine by the weekend,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer. “We understand we may get more by Tuesday – some Pfizer and hopefully Moderna.”

Front-line health care workers are signing up for vaccination appointments as soon as they’re offered and other staff members, including Mills, are staffing the clinics from early morning until late at night.

“Our uptake has been fantastic,” Mills said. “These are people who have been caring for COVID patients. They know the risks of the disease. It’s all hands on deck. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Mills said she had received no reports of serious adverse reactions to the vaccine among MaineHealth employees. Federal guidelines warn of precautions or contraindications for people with a severe allergic reaction to injected therapies or any component of the Pfizer vaccine.

Maine Med ICU nurse Kayla Mitchell made history Tuesday morning when she became the first person in the state to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She was feeling happy and well Wednesday afternoon, and said she had only one of the common symptoms that can result from the Pfizer vaccine, which include fever, headache and muscle pain.

“I have a tiny bit of soreness at the injection site, which is common with any vaccination,” Mitchell said. “But I’m feeling fine. I’m still excited and hopeful, and so are many other people here. It’s been a big morale booster within the department.”

Dr. Lisa Torraca, an emergency department physician at Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland, receives her vaccination from pharmacist Brianna Colville. Courtesy Northern Light Mercy

Maine Med, Mercy, CMMC, MaineGeneral, AR Gould and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention each received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine – 5,850 doses in all – that got emergency use authorization last week from the federal Food and Drug Administration. It’s a two-dose vaccine that must be stored in ultra-cold freezers at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) and requires a booster shot in about three weeks.

MaineHealth is expected to receive a total initial allotment of nearly 1,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, including 900 reallocated from deliveries to other Maine hospitals. With the anticipated approval of the Moderna vaccine later this week, MaineHealth expects to get an additional 15,775 doses next week.

Overall, the Maine CDC expects the state to receive 74,875 vaccine doses in the first three weeks of the rollout, including the two-dose Moderna vaccine. The two vaccines are not interchangeable, so second doses must be from of the same vaccine and are being kept in reserve by federal health officials to ensure people will be fully inoculated.

Maine’s first-week allotment of 12,675 vaccine doses includes 6,825 doses that are destined for residents and staff members of 94 nursing homes across the state. Maine has about 75,000 health care workers who have direct contact with patients and about 6,200 residents in skilled nursing homes.

CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacies in Maine are set to begin offering inoculation clinics at nursing homes starting Monday, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said during the state’s regular pandemic briefing on Wednesday. Shah said the Maine CDC hasn’t received the vaccine doses earmarked for Maine nursing homes; he “presumes” the pharmacies have them stored in their warehouses.

Shah expects that all nursing home residents and staff members will receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by the first week in January, with boosters to be administered during follow-up clinics.

“They may take several days, if not weeks, to move through all of the skilled nursing facilities in Maine for that first vaccine event, and then the second administration event, and then the third,” Shah said.

Elderly Mainers and other high-risk groups will follow in the months ahead, with the general public likely being offered the vaccine next summer.

In the meantime, health care workers at all levels are pleading with Mainers to increase their vigilance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, staying at least 6 feet apart, washing hands regularly, avoiding gatherings over five people and curtailing travel plans.

If case numbers continue to climb and hospital beds fill up, Christmas could be a “devastating” time for many Mainers, Northern Light’s Jarvis said during Wednesday’s hospital briefing.

“This should be a warning sign for everybody,” he said. “We need you to help protect us. This will be a long process.”

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