Nick Bloom, a certified pharmacy technician, preps syringes of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine before opening the doors on the first day of the Northern Light Mercy Hospital mass vaccination clinic at the Portland Expo on March 2. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nearly one in eight Maine residents has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including more than one in three over 70, who are at highest risk of death.

As of Wednesday morning, 446,226 COVID-19 vaccine shots had been administered across the state. Of those, 283,688 were first shots, accounting for 21 percent of the state’s population, and 162,538, just over 12 percent, were second doses. Individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one shot, are included in state’s tally of second doses.

Roughly three out of four Mainers over 70 have now gotten their first dose and 37 percent are fully vaccinated. After health care workers and first responders, the state has been prioritizing older Mainers, who account for an overwhelming majority of COVID-19 related deaths.

Last week, eligibility opened to individuals between 60 and 69, a group that includes nearly 200,000 people. Additionally, teachers, school staff and child care workers also became eligible following a directive to states from the Biden administration. That group has a little more than 50,000 individuals.

Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident commander for Northern Light Health, said that Tuesday was Northern Light’s busiest day for vaccinations: 4,339 shots were administered across all sites, including more than 2,100 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Among all shots Northern Light has given, 77 percent have gone to those 70 and older.

“We’re very proud of that fact,” Jarvis said during a media briefing Wednesday.

Maine increased its daily vaccinations to more than 10,000 doses on average this week and improved its standing among other states, according to a Bloomberg News state-by-state tracker. As of Tuesday, Maine ranked 10th among states in percentage of residents who have been fully vaccinated and eighth in percentage of the population that has received one dose.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that the state’s improved ranking is attributable to the fact that two large vaccination sites came on line – at the Portland Expo and at the former Marshalls store in Sanford – and because vaccine providers have gotten better at reporting their numbers to the state in a timely fashion.

Those gains came even though about 20 percent fewer doses of vaccine were delivered to Maine this week. Johnson & Johnson had cleared its supply a week earlier – 15,000 of those doses came to Maine alone – and has yet to fully replenish its stock. Shah expects to see modest increases in doses coming to the state over the next two weeks and then bigger increases in late March and early April.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that the United States is purchasing an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, on top of the 100 million doses the company is contracted to provide by the end of June.

State health officials reported 195 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday but no additional deaths.

The seven-day daily case average increased to 167, up slightly from 148 cases two weeks, or one incubation period, ago. This time last month, the average number of daily cases was 234. Cases peaked above 600 per day in mid-January.

Since the pandemic reached Maine almost one year ago, there have been 46,254 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 723 deaths, according to data tracked by the Maine CDC. The state added 17 deaths to the total on Tuesday after conducting its latest review of death certificates to see if COVID-19 was a factor in any death not reported to the CDC.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased slightly Wednesday to 75, including 25 in critical care and nine on ventilators. Hospitalizations have leveled off over the last three weeks after dropping steadily from a high of more than 200 in mid-January. Throughout the pandemic, 1,583 Maine people have been hospitalized at some point.

After several consecutive weeks of sharp declines, cases and hospitalizations have been leveling off in many states, but that hasn’t stopped some from loosening pandemic restrictions. Maine Gov. Janet Mills last week relaxed travel requirements for residents of New England states coming to Maine. Later this month, capacity for indoor and outdoor gatherings will increase, and bars and tasting rooms will be able to open on March 26.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that the U.S. could see significant steps toward a return to pre-pandemic norms, even before the country reaches coronavirus herd immunity. Current estimates for the percentage of people who need to be immune to stem the pandemic range between 70-85 percent of the population, which could happen by late summer or early fall.

But, Fauci said, “You don’t have to wait until you get full herd immunity to get a really profound effect on what you can do.”

In an effort to help close gaps in vaccinations, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday a new program to give free rides to vaccine appointments for individuals with transportation challenges. Rides are available from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Sundays and can be scheduled by calling 855-608-5172.

Jarvis also said Northern Light also is looking to open vaccination clinics in underserved areas. A site at the Piscataquis Ice Arena in Dover-Foxcroft is scheduled to open on March 19 and another site is being scouted in Hancock County.

“We continue to look at ways to improve our process and a have greater vaccine distribution,” Jarvis said.

He’s been encouraged by how positively the vaccinations have been received across all sites.

“The best thing that’s been happening to us is the positive news we see on social media from Mainers who are proud to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that he knows of health care workers and staff in long-term care facilities who were initially skeptical about getting a vaccine but now want to schedule an appointment. “That word of mouth has probably been the best thing.”

Jarvis also reminded people that with three vaccine options now available, Maine people should feel comfortable getting whatever vaccine is offered to them.

“It’s not the time to pick and choose,” he said.

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