Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Leach draws a dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe in late December at the Hartford Fire Station in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Maine will likely get about 17,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine again next week, but the pace of deliveries has not been fast enough to significantly expand immunization efforts, the state’s top public health official said Wednesday.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention only receives about six days’ notice from the federal government about the likely size of the next week’s shipment, said state CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. The state is not informed of how much vaccine to expect in subsequent weeks or months, which makes planning for the next phase of immunization ‘very, very difficult,’ Shah said.

Maine reported 525 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. There were three additional deaths.

Shah has said Maine would need to receive about 50,000 doses per week, instead of the 15,000 to 20,000 it has been getting, to avoid constraining the immunization program.

Federal Operation Warp Speed officials have told the state it might receive an additional 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine on top of the 17,075 other doses next week, Shah said. The state so far is receiving vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer.

So far, 38,065  Mainers have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. But Maine residents, especially seniors, wonder when it will be their turn during the next phase of vaccinations, which is expected to begin in February.

“As much as I wish I could give everyone their spot in line now, I am not able to do so,” Shah said. “Right now, any pronouncements I make would not be worth the paper it is written on.”

Maine is currently in the middle of vaccinating for Phase 1A, which includes health care workers, staff and residents of nursing homes and paramedics – a total of about 130,000 people. The next phase, 200,000 in Phase 1B, would include seniors 75 and older and frontline essential workers, which will likely consist of teachers, police officers, grocery store clerks and postal workers, among others.

Shah said the state may come up with a priority list within Phase 1B, giving the vaccine first to those most vulnerable to contracting or transmitting the virus.

While other states have offered more details on how the second vaccination phase will proceed, one reason Maine officials have not done so is they need assurances that the vaccine shipments will grow, Shah said.

“What a plan needs to have is more than just theory. It has to be reality based,” Shah said. “Those (other states’) plans are just words on a page without any promise behind them.”

Nevertheless, Shah said, state officials are in discussions about Phase 1B and are expected to release the plan in the coming weeks.

Overall, Maine has recorded 27,090 cases of COVID-19 and 372 deaths since the pandemic began in March. The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 513.9 on Wednesday, compared to 429.7 a week ago and 262.9 a month ago.

Currently, 191 people are hospitalized in Maine with COVID-19, with 54 in intensive care.

Also on Wednesday, the Central Maine Healthcare and Northern Light Health systems began administering second doses of vaccine to front-line medical workers who received first doses three weeks ago. MaineHealth started giving booster doses on Monday.

About 50 percent of Northern Light staff members – 6,500 nurses, doctors and others – had received at least a first dose of vaccine as of Wednesday, said Dr. James Jarvis, Northern Light’s senior physician executive. An additional 500 subcontractors and others who work in the system also have received a first dose.

Jarvis said most Northern Light employees are “joyful” to be vaccinated, especially amid rising COVID-19 cases and deaths. He said 10 to 15 percent of staff members have said they couldn’t be vaccinated at this time, but very few have declined to be vaccinated at all.

Jarvis also noted a rise in patients canceling appointments for regular medical care because they fear being exposed to the virus if they enter Northern Light facilities.

“It is safe to come into our facilities,” Jarvis said. “If you delay care, it could be detrimental to your health.”

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