Intensive care physician Dr. Peter Bagley and intensive care nurse Debra Charest, right, receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. Nurses Lisa MacKenzie, left, and Christie Adams, second from right, helped administer over 200 COVID-19 vaccinations Thursday to health care workers. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Debra Charest, an intensive care unit nurse, and Peter Bagley, an intensive care unit doctor, rolled up their sleeves in tandem Thursday to become the first St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center employees to get the new COVID-19 vaccine.

Both considered it no more daunting than getting a flu shot.

“If it’s going to protect me while I’m here for the patients … then I want all the protection I can get,” Charest said.

Maine hospitals began vaccinating employees Tuesday. Central Maine Healthcare started its group vaccinations Wednesday.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston received about 400 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Three hundred will be given to St. Mary’s medical workers and the remaining 100 were given to Central Maine Medical Center, a hospital with a larger staff and in need of more doses to accommodate their front-line employees. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

CMHC and St. Mary’s are sharing 975 doses of the vaccine from this first distribution, administering them over several days to employees at high risk or who deal directly with COVID-19 patients. Because the vaccines are highly heat sensitive, Bates College in Lewiston loaned the two Lewiston hospitals ultra-low-temperature freezers to store the doses.

St. Mary’s has 400 doses to give out. It started with 60 workers Thursday morning and was expected to give out 140 doses by the end of the day. Another 120 shots are scheduled for Friday.

The vaccines are voluntary for St. Mary’s employees, but they are encouraged, according to Chief Medical Officer Doug Smith.

He said an employee survey showed 40% wanted to take the vaccine, 30% did not and 30% were unsure. He was buoyed by the 260 people already scheduled for Thursday and Friday, with more signing up every minute.

“I’m encouraged,” he said. “I was thinking maybe 60% to 70% of health care workers in this setting would (get the shot). I think it’s probably going to end up being higher than that, based on what we’re seeing so far.”

Pharmacy Director Vahid Rohani prepares a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. Nurses were scheduled to vaccinate over 200 St. Mary’s health care workers Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Although the nursing home is part of the St. Mary’s Health System, d’Youville Pavilion employees did not get the COVID-19 shot as a group this week. D’Youville has contracted with Walgreens to provide the vaccine and that employee clinic will take place next Tuesday.

St. Mary’s employees this week received the Pfizer vaccine and will need a second dose in three weeks. Each person who received the first shot Thursday was scheduled for the second before leaving.

St. Mary’s also expects to get 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, though that vaccine had not yet been authorized for emergency use by the FDA as of Thursday afternoon. That approval is widely expected in the coming days.

It is unclear when the hospital will get future vaccine deliveries or how many doses there will be. That depends on state and federal distribution plans.

“We didn’t know the distribution, how many (of the Pfizer vaccine) we were getting, until last Friday. So there’s not a lot of lead time for things,” Smith said. “Bottom line is we’ll be ready as soon as they tell us it’s coming.”

Smith was not eligible for the first vaccination round because he doesn’t work directly with patients. Still, he called the vaccinations “exciting.”

“This is one of the first things that I think we feel like we can fight back with against this thing,” he said.

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