Lynn Cummings of Lewiston receives her COVID-19 vaccination last week from licensed practical nurse Morgan Willey at the Auburn Mall. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination program will be getting a substantial boost next week, with 10,010 additional doses, a 28 percent increase over this week.

The increase in doses reported by the federal government on Wednesday will boost the state’s progress in vaccinating Mainers in their 50s, who became eligible for inoculations on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Mills also announced updated COVID-19 prevention guidelines that allow for buffets at restaurants and the operation of day and overnight summer camps, with recommendations for COVID-19 testing.

Maine will get 45,200 doses next week, up from the 35,190 doses that were shipped to the state this week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Most of the vaccine increase is due to a boost in supplies from the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which went from 1,600 doses this week to 8,100 doses for next week. Maine also is receiving 23,400 doses of Pfizer and 13,700 doses of Moderna vaccines next week.

In addition, an as-yet-undetermined number of vaccine doses will flow into Maine next week through a federal retail pharmacy program that includes Walmart, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and Hannaford’s. In recent weeks, Maine has received about 12,000 doses through the program, which is exclusively vaccinating school staff through March 31.

If the retail pharmacy program continues to receive 12,000 doses or more next week, Maine would be approaching a total of about 60,000 doses for next week.

The Biden administration has indicated that vaccine supplies will get much more plentiful at the end of March and into April. Maine is getting roughly double the number of weekly doses that it was receiving in early February.

Maine is among the quickest states in the country for getting “shots in arms,” ranking seventh-highest in the nation for administering at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker. In Maine, 28 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people have received at least one dose. New Mexico is tops in the United States for how fast it is giving doses, with 33.7 percent receiving at least one shot.

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that it’s unclear whether next week’s increase in doses will continue.

“Our federal partners have given no indication that the projected increases in Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week will be anything more than a one-week bump,” Long said. Pfizer doses are increasing from 19,890 this week to 23,400 next week, while the Moderna doses are holding steady at 13,700.

“The addition of more Johnson & Johnson doses will support ongoing efforts to vaccinate homebound individuals, long-term care residents and staff who were not vaccinated as part of the retail pharmacy program, and others for whom a single-dose vaccine would be most beneficial,” Long said.

Dr. James Jarvis, Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 senior physician executive, said the network can handle a surge in doses.

“The more vaccine we get, the sooner we can vaccinate more individuals,” Jarvis said. “Every week that we see an increase in our allocation is a good week. We were a little disappointed the last couple of weeks where our allocation across the state stayed somewhat flat. So we continue to hope that the federal government will be able to allocate more vaccine to the state of Maine. And as it comes in, we will find a way to vaccinate as many people as quickly as we can.”

Jarvis said more than 5,000 people registered in the first few hours that Northern Light’s appointment scheduling website went live on Monday with the expanded eligibility to those between 50 and 59. More than 11,500 appointments had been reserved as of Tuesday afternoon. But Jarvis said appointment slots were still open at various sites across the state as of Wednesday afternoon, so he urged those eligible to check on availability.

The Mills administration released revised COVID-19 prevention “checklists” on Wednesday to allow more activities, including “overnight camps of all sessions and lengths.” A few overnight camps operated last summer, but many were canceled. Also permitted will be buffets at restaurants and self-service food stations. The guidelines also allow restaurants that have bars to keep bars open after the restaurant portion of the business has closed. Bars and tasting rooms can open on March 26.

Maine reported 199 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. There were no additional deaths.

The 199 new cases on Wednesday nearly matches the seven-day average of 200.1, almost identical to the 199.9 seven-day average a week ago but higher than the 148.6 a month ago. The current seven-day average is still much lower than the more than 600 cases averaged per day in mid-January, in what was the peak of the pandemic in Maine so far.

Overall, Maine has recorded 48,972 positive COVID-19 tests, and 731 deaths.

The state has set up a website, vaccinateme.maine.gov that eventually will be used to schedule appointments. The new website is currently doing preregistrations. It will not supplant current systems used by Northern Light Health and MaineHealth to register people for vaccinations at mass immunization sites in Portland, Bangor, Scarborough and Sanford. Rather, the site is expected to be used for smaller vaccination clinics not operated by the large health systems.

The state did a “soft launch” of the new website, without any advance publicity, on Tuesday, the same day that Maine residents 50 to 59 became eligible for vaccination. The expansion means an additional 164,000 Maine residents can now sign up for shots.

As of Tuesday, 376,628 Maine people had received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 28 percent of the state’s 1.3 million population, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard. Also, 228,353, or 17 percent, had received their final dose.

A free transportation program for those who need a ride to a vaccine appointment has given or scheduled 505 trips since the program’s launch on March 9. The phone number for requesting a free ride is 855-608-5172. Rides are available every day except Sundays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There are currently 78 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 29 in intensive care.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this story.

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