Melissa Skahan performs a temperature check on someone as staff and volunteers arrive before the first day of the Northern Light Mercy Hospital mass vaccination clinic at the Portland Expo on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine expects to see a dramatic drop-off in COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered next week, just as the state announced that teachers and child care workers are now eligible alongside residents 60 and older.

The state will receive 33,500 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, an 11 percent increase over this week, but will not receive any doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This week, 15,000 Johnson & Johnson doses arrived in Maine following the FDA’s emergency use authorization over the weekend.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday that the sharp decrease presents challenges, particularly since more and more residents are now eligible. But he also pointed out that the doses earmarked for the state will be supplemented by doses that go directly to retail pharmacies under a partnership with the federal government. Those allotments have not been finalized. Last week, Maine got an additional 9,000 doses that went directly to pharmacies.

“We’re going to make things happen as we always do,” Shah said, adding that the state is redirecting 1,170 doses from Walgreens that were not being immediately used. “But as March rolls on and we go into April … we hope the overall supply increases.”

Also on Thursday, the state announced that Gov. Janet Mills and other administration officials will discuss plans for Maine’s spring and summer tourism seasons at a virtual news conference Friday.

The CDC reported 136 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, but no additional deaths. The seven-day daily case average increased slightly to 159 – from 148 cases two weeks, or one incubation period, ago. The seven-day daily average was 270 cases this time last month. Daily cases peaked at an average of more than 600 in mid-January, likely attributable to an increase in gatherings over the holidays, and have been dropping since, both in Maine and across the country.


Heath officials are concerned that cases might be leveling off rather than continuing to decline and Shah said he is closely watching those trends. He also drew attention to two recent outbreaks – 11 cases at the First Pentecostal Church in Livermore Falls and 10 cases among staff at Penobscot County Jail – as a reminder for people to remain vigilant.

Furthermore, Shah announced that the first case of the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.351, which originated in South Africa, has been detected in a resident of Cumberland County. Maine also has tracked three cases of another variant, B.1.1.7, which was first documented in the United Kingdom. Though the variants are not vaccine-resistant, they are worrisome because they spread faster.

There have now been 45,227 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 705 deaths since the pandemic reached Maine almost one year ago. The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 increased slightly to 69 on Thursday, including 23 in critical care and eight on ventilators. Like cases, hospitalizations have leveled off over the last two weeks, ranging between 62 and 75 daily, after decreasing steadily from a high of 207 on Jan. 13. A total of 1,549 people have been in the hospital with COVID-19 at some point since last March.

As for vaccinations, Maine had administered 375,596 COVID-19 vaccine doses as of Thursday morning. Of those, 244,698 were first doses, which represents 18.2 percent of the population, and 130,898 people, or 9.7 percent, have been fully vaccinated. Among Mainers 70 and older, who are at higher risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19, 70 percent have received one shot and 26 percent have gotten both.

But Maine has declined in vaccination progress compared to other states. As of Wednesday, the state ranked 20th among states with 24.89 shots administered per 100 people, slightly above the national rate of 24.3 shots per 100 people, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker. The state had been in the top 10 for several weeks and even cracked the top five one week. Maine is even further back – 34th – in the percentage of population that has received both shots.

Asked about that on Thursday, Shah acknowledged that Maine has been slipping.


“Let’s acknowledge that. We share that concern,” he said. “We’re not pleased with that trend either.”

Shah didn’t have a clear answer for why Maine might be falling behind but said his team is taking a closer look at supply to see if shots are sitting on shelves or if there have been other challenges.

Even though Maine has dropped below other states, vaccinations are increasing. The average number administered per day this week is nearly 8,000, compared to about 7,000 last week.

This week, more than 55,000 vaccine doses arrived in Maine between allotments to the CDC and to the pharmacy chains – the highest weekly total so far. That increase coincided with major changes to the state’s vaccination strategy and with the opening of several new options for people to get vaccines, including large sites like the Portland Expo, the former Marshalls store in Sanford and the former Pier 1 store in South Portland, and at Walgreens, Walmart and Hannaford pharmacy locations across the state.

However, just as Mainers between 60 and 69 became eligible as part of the state’s new age-based strategy, Gov. Janet Mills announced on Wednesday that teachers and child care staff will now be eligible for vaccinations, regardless of age. That decision came after a directive from President Biden, who on Tuesday called on states to administer at least the first shot to all teachers and child care workers by the end of the month. The Biden administration has been vocal about wanting to see schools open to more in-person learning after many months of remote or hybrid learning. Maine had been among a dwindling number of states that had not prioritized teachers.

But with a reduction in doses expected for next week, demand is expected to dramatically outpace supply.


Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commission Jeanne Lambrew said the Mills’ administration’s goal remains to target people at the highest risk, which it believes are older Mainers. More than 85 percent of Maine deaths from COVID-19 have been people over the age of 70. But she also said in light of the Biden administration directive, the state will work hard to provide teachers with as many opportunities as possible as well.

“Although Maine was supplied with fewer doses in the second week of March than the first week, we are working with clinics across the state to get every dose administered quickly,” she said. “This includes working with the Department of Education on special clinics to vaccinate teachers and school staff age 60 and older, with details announced soon.”

Teachers can receive a vaccine from any vaccinator, but the state hopes to steer them to pharmacies.

The inclusion of teachers in the vaccination plan does not necessarily mean an immediate change in the state’s guidelines for schools on distancing and masking.

“For now, the requirements remain and we urge school districts to continue to follow them even as teachers and school staff get vaccinated,” Lambrew said.

The reduction in Johnson & Johnson doses was disappointing but expected, Shah said. Once the company received authorization, it cleared out its shelves. Now, production needs to ramp back up. He hopes the decrease is temporary and mentioned that another pharmaceutical company, Merck, is assisting in production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine going forward.

That was one of the reasons Biden announced this week that vaccine production is ahead of schedule to the point where there will be enough vaccine for all adult Americans to be inoculated by the end of May, which is two months earlier than expected.

Asked if that seemed possible in Maine, Shah was cautious.

“We’re still pretty vaccine constrained,” he said.

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