Dianne Calder, a resident of The Cedars in Portland, was among the first nursing home residents in Maine to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on Monday. Calder moved to The Cedars shortly before the nursing home closed to visitors and enforced protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. Getting the vaccine gave her hope that she may soon be able to hug her daughter again and dine with other residents. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The first shipments of a new COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Maine on Monday as pharmacies began inoculating residents and staff members at nursing homes.

The new vaccine was developed by Moderna and approved last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sixty vials containing a total of 600 doses arrived at Central Maine Medical Center shortly before 10 a.m., said Ann Kim, hospital spokeswoman.

Maine is expecting to receive 24,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, as well as 4,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 29,075 front-line health care workers.

Also on Monday, two pharmacists working for Walgreens administered the Pfizer vaccine to more than 120 residents and staff members at The Cedars nursing home in Portland, said Katharine O’Neill, the facility’s spokeswoman.

Dianne Calder, 84, formerly of Chebeague Island, said she was excited and happy to be among about 40 residents who were vaccinated on Monday.

Calder moved to The Cedars shortly before the nursing home closed to visitors and enforced protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. Getting the vaccine gave her hope that she soon may be able to hug her daughter again and dine with other residents.

“To me, this might open the door to that,” Calder said. “I’m afraid about what’s happening out there. We could be wiped out entirely if we didn’t do something.”

Susan Dionne-Jones, director of nursing at The Cedars, said the vast majority of residents were vaccinated after they or their legal representatives signed consent forms. A few had declined or had yet to provide consent, she said.

Most staff members also were vaccinated, Dionne-Jones said, although several had declined or decided to wait for the second vaccination clinic in three weeks. The pharmacies are expected to hold three clinics at each nursing home to ensure each person gets the required second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“Overall, the response was overwhelming,” Dionne-Jones said. “It has been hard on everybody. I would love to have 100 percent vaccination.”

Meanwhile, a vaccination clinic that was scheduled to be held Monday at the Durgin Pines nursing home in Kittery was postponed to Dec. 29 because Walgreens hadn’t received a shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, said Dr. Jabbar Fazeli, the facility’s medical director.

“Walgreens said they did not receive a planned shipment that would have included vaccine for us,” Fazeli said. “We took the new date and asked them to move us ahead if a closer date becomes available.”

Fazeli said he requested vaccine for 175 residents and staff members at Durgin Pines, and he hopes Walgreens can hold a first clinic even sooner to help stem a COVID-19 outbreak at the nursing home that dates to mid-October. The outbreak has resulted in 52 cases; the last two residents who tested positive for the virus on Dec. 14 remain in the nursing home’s COVID unit.

Maine has been allocated thousands of Pfizer doses – 6,825 last week and 3,900 this week – to begin vaccinating residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

However, it’s unclear which other nursing homes hosted vaccination clinics on Monday, or where they will be held in days ahead. The CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains, as well as some locally owned pharmacies, are expected to deliver vaccine and provide staff for vaccination clinics at 94 nursing homes across the state, but there has been little public information about that effort.

A Walgreens spokeswoman said Monday that the company wouldn’t identify nursing homes or share clinic schedules because of safety concerns for residents and employees. A CVS spokeswoman said the company began vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities in Maine on Monday, but she wouldn’t disclose which nursing homes or when the clinics would occur.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a news briefing Monday that some vaccination clinics at nursing homes had been rescheduled.

Shah said the pharmacies are hiring additional pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to staff the clinics, but he questioned whether they will have enough people, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing capacity to carry out the clinics safely and on schedule.

Shah has said he expects an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine to be offered to all residents and employees of Maine nursing homes by the first week in January, but he also has said he has no role in or in-depth knowledge of the pharmacies’ vaccination plans for nursing homes.

As of Monday, at least 4,682 front-line health care workers had been inoculated with the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Shah said.

Other prioritized groups, such as residents of assisted-living facilities and people with underlying medical conditions, will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine in the weeks and months ahead, with healthy members of the general public getting access next summer or fall, Shah said.

“We are trying to commit as much as we can of the Pfizer vaccine, which is what we are using in the long-term care facilities, for the staff and residents there,” Shah said. “It can’t happen quickly enough.”

Claire McDonough, pharmacy operations manager at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, unpacks some of the first doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in Maine on Monday. Photo courtesy of Central Maine Healthcare

A vaccination clinic is scheduled to be held at the Rumford Community Home on Tuesday, and inoculation efforts will continue among front-line health care workers at Central Maine Medical Center, Rumford Hospital and Bridgton Hospital, which are all part of Central Maine Healthcare.

Central Maine has inoculated more than 550 hospital team members since receiving its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine last week, said Dr. John Alexander, chief medical officer.

“We expect to finish our initial supply of Pfizer vaccine today and the delivery of the Moderna vaccine will allow us to keep the momentum going without interruption,” Alexander said. “For this first month of vaccine administration, we are focusing our vaccination efforts towards team members who care for inpatients.”

The Moderna doses will be delivered this week to 37 hospitals and home care agencies across Maine. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in ultra-cold freezers at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), the Moderna vaccine may be stored in standard freezers.

MaineHealth expects to receive deliveries of the Moderna vaccine on Monday at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and MaineHealth Care at Home in Saco, said John Porter, MaineHealth spokesman.

Shah expects that the remaining Moderna vaccine doses scheduled to arrive this week will be delivered on Tuesday.

Additional Pfizer doses set to be received this week will be delivered to Maine Medical Center in Portland, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, and MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, with some redistribution to other hospitals to ensure access to the vaccine, according to the Maine CDC.

Last week, Pfizer delivered 5,850 doses that launched Maine’s effort to vaccinate an estimated 75,000 health care workers across the state who have direct contact with patients.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller and Staff Photographer Brianna Soukup contributed to this report.

Correction: The story was updated at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 to correct the date of a scheduled vaccination clinic at Durgin Pines.

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