More than 33,000 Maine residents had been vaccinated for COVID-19 as of Monday morning, which is a higher percentage than almost every other state but still less than 3 percent of the population. The vaccination plan will be a months-long effort, and many people have questions about how it will play out.

Here are answers to some common questions about the vaccination rollout and what to expect in the coming months. Have other questions? Email them to [email protected].

I am a seasonal resident who normally leaves during the winter but has stayed in Maine this year because of the pandemic. Can I get vaccinated in Maine if I’m not a resident? What if my primary care doctor is in another state?

We’ve received this question more than a dozen times in recent days. In another scenario, individuals have moved to Maine temporarily to help an aging parent or family member weather the pandemic. Unfortunately, we don’t have a firm answer because state health officials have yet to settle on a policy.

The issue of seasonal Maine residents – and particularly retired “snowbirds” in higher-risk age groups – is “the subject of ongoing discussions” at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said the state’s ultimate aim is to vaccinate everyone regardless of residency, especially if they fall within a high-risk group. But the federal government bases its vaccine allocation formula on state populations, so Long said the state is talking with federal officials about finding “an equitable way to vaccinate at-risk ‘snowbirds.’”

This is no minor issue in Maine, where more than 19 percent of homes were considered “vacation” homes, according to a recent report. That is the highest percentage in the nation. But Maine also has the nation’s oldest population, with roughly 20 percent of the people who reside here being over age 65.

That all adds up to a lot of competition for scant supplies of vaccines, at present.

Asked about the issue on a Maine Public call-in program on Monday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said his agency also has heard from Maine residents wintering in other states. Shah is talking with his counterparts in other states.

“Vaccines remain a precious commodity today, but hopefully, at some point in the future, there will be a sufficient number of vaccines authorized and they will be produced in large enough numbers to where we won’t have to make those distinctions,” Shah said on “Maine Calling.” “The only thing we will care about is vaccinating folks so the entire country can get back to normal.”

Will I be able to get vaccinated at my local pharmacy when it is my turn, just like the flu shot?

That’s the plan – eventually.

National pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens are already administering vaccines to residents and staff at Maine’s long-term care homes as part of the first phase of vaccinations for the highest-risk individuals. The Maine CDC also is talking with the chains, and others, about offering COVID-19 vaccines to the broader public when that time arrives.

Additionally, Hannaford Supermarkets announced last week that it plans to offer COVID vaccines at its pharmacies in Maine and four other New England states when the states get to Phase 2 of vaccinations.

Shah said Monday that the state is also discussing options for mass-vaccination clinics around the state where thousands of people could receive shots in a single day. The challenge there, Shah said, is setting up such large-scale vaccination events in a way that avoids long lines of people that, in turn, become super-spreader events for the virus.

So where are we now in the vaccination rollout?

Maine is still squarely within Phase 1A, which is focused on hospital emergency department and COVID unit staff, first responders, long-term care residents and staff, and other medical professionals or hospital staff at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The next tier, Phase 1B, is expected to begin in February and will focus on Mainers age 75 and older, and other “essential workers.”

I’m a senior citizen, when will I get my vaccine?

The short answer is, it’s unclear but the timing will likely depend on your age. As it stands now, vaccinations appear likely to begin in February for Mainers age 75 and older as well as “essential” workers such as teachers, police officers, grocery store employees, postal workers and those in food or agricultural production.

Mainers between ages 65 and 74 are currently slated for vaccination during Phase 1C, which likely won’t kick in until later in the spring. Phase 1C also includes individuals under age 65 whose underlying medical conditions place them at higher risk of serious illness and death.

Several states have decided to give older residents a higher priority than essential workers. Maine hasn’t taken that step and officials say they haven’t made a final decision yet.

But during Monday’s briefing, Shah said the Maine CDC is considering splitting up Phase 1B into subgroups in order to target the highest-risk individuals first. For instance, Maine could reserve the first vaccinations for the oldest people in that 75-and-older age group or for essential workers who face the highest risk of infection before moving onto the rest of the people in Phase 1C.

It will likely be summertime before vaccinations are available to the broader population, depending on vaccine production levels.

What about those under age 16?

The Pfizer vaccine was approved for ages 16 and older, and the Moderna vaccine for those 18 and older. However, research has begun on using the vaccines for those age 12 and older, and is expected to begin this year for younger children. People in these age groups would already be among the last to receive the vaccine, and it’s unclear how long it will take to complete the research on children and have them approved for a vaccine, but expect it to be well into 2021. However, with both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines having 95 percent effectiveness rates and more vaccines potentially being approved in 2021, case rates, if all goes well, will be declining substantially by late spring or summer, public health experts have said.

I have a condition that weakens my immune system. I have allergies. Should I receive the vaccine?

The U.S. CDC says people with immune conditions should consult with their doctor, but they are eligible to receive the vaccine. Those with allergies can receive the vaccine unless they are allergic to the specific ingredients used in the vaccines. Follow this link for more information on the COVID-19 vaccine and allergies.

What is the pace of vaccine delivery to Maine?

The Maine CDC anticipated receiving roughly 65,000 doses of the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna by Thursday. That would cover roughly half of the 130,000 people included in Phase 1A, which is focused on front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents.

I’ve heard Maine hasn’t received its full share of COVID vaccines. Why?

This is a national issue attributable to logistical challenges at the federal level. While Maine’s Week 3 allocation of 19,125 doses from the federal government was short just 370 doses, the Week 2 distribution contained 4,875 fewer doses than expected.

How many Mainers have been vaccinated so far?

As of Monday, 33,425 people, or roughly 2.5 percent of the Maine population, had received the first shot in the two-shot vaccination regimen, with that number climbing by thousands daily. The second shot, which is necessary for maximum immunity, must be administered three to four weeks later.

What about family physicians, specialists, nurses and technicians who routinely see patients but don’t work for hospitals? Are they being vaccinated?

Vaccinations of independent practitioners, private health care providers and others not affiliated with hospitals began last week and are expected to continue this week as part of the next rung in the Phase 1A rollout.

Who will be vaccinated after health care workers?

Mainers age 75 or older and essential front-line workers are next in line for vaccines. Based on federal recommendations, those essential workers include police officers, teachers, postal workers, grocery store employees, public transit workers and people working in daycare settings, as well as food, agricultural and manufacturing workers.

When will that happen? And how will those essential workers or Mainers age 75 or older know when they can get vaccinated?

The timing for the next phase of vaccinations is fluid, but it looks to be late January or early February. Employers will likely notify essential workers, while doctors or other medical providers will be expected to contact patients who are eligible for vaccines based on their age.

I’m 65 years old but in decent health. When will it be my turn for vaccination?

Mainers age 65 to 74 – as well as people age 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions – are currently included in the third phase of vaccinations. Again, the timing of Phase 1C depends heavily on the pace of vaccine production and delivery to states. But as it stands now, Mainers in that 65-to-74 age group will probably have to wait until late winter or early spring for vaccinations.

Why is a healthy, 20-year-old grocery store worker eligible for a vaccine before a 70-year-old, given the risks to older Mainers?

Maine’s vaccination plan is based on guidance from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. And public health officials acknowledge they are trying to maximize the effects of limited, early supplies of vaccines. So while studies clearly show individuals age 65 and older are hospitalized and die of COVID-19 at much higher rates, a 20-something grocery clerk or postal worker who may have the virus and be asymptomatic could interact with dozens of older people during their shift.

The goal, according to Shah and federal officials, is to simultaneously reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths among older residents while also reducing the number cases in the community by vaccinating younger but higher-exposure workers However, several states have deviated from federal guidelines and given elderly residents a higher priority than essential workers. Maine says it is hasn’t made a final decision on this question.

What about the rest of the population? When can healthier adults under age 65 expect to be vaccinated?

It’s likely going to be awhile – probably summer or even early fall – before there are sufficient supplies for mass inoculation. While federal officials have suggested this could happen by spring (particularly if other vaccines are cleared for mass production/distribution), Shah, the Maine CDC director, has said Mainers should be prepared to wait until June, July or even later for mass vaccination.

How will people know when it is their turn?

Primary care physicians or the health clinics where people receive care will likely play a major role in notifying people about vaccinations, although the specifics have yet to be worked out. Also, expect a robust public information campaign around that time and vaccination events at civic centers, fire departments, schools or other public places in order to get as many shots into arms as possible.

How do the vaccines work?

The vaccines contain a genetic molecule, known as mRNA, that prompts the body to stimulate the immune system to fight COVID-19. While the vaccine does not contain a live version of the coronavirus that can cause the disease, it should allow your body’s immune system to “remember” or recognize (and fight off) the virus if and when it encounters the real thing.

Will I have to pay to be vaccinated?

Maybe. The federal government is supplying all vaccines for free, regardless of whether individuals have private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or no health coverage. But doctors or other health providers can charge an administration fee for actually injecting the vaccine into your arm, although federal rules also allow them to be reimbursed for that fee by insurers or the government.

Are there side effects to the vaccines?

As with almost any vaccine, people may experience mild side effects such as soreness or swelling at the injection site, body aches or even fever, all of which indicate the body’s immune system is responding as expected to what it views as an invader. There have been rare instances of more severe reactions.

At least a handful of those have happened in health care workers in Maine who experienced severe allergic reactions after being inoculated at Maine Medical Center. All of the workers were administered a drug to counteract the allergy and have since recovered. Shah said some evidence suggests individuals allergic to shellfish, or who have other severe allergies, could be more at risk of a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, but those instances remain rare. That is why individuals should be monitored on site for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving the shot.

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