A pedestrian walks along Congress Street, where the State Theatre marquee displays a timely message on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

All Mainers 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination beginning Wednesday thanks to a cascade of increased doses coming to the state next week that is allowing the Mills administration to shift the state immunization program into overdrive.

“We’re anxious and eager to get this (pandemic) all behind us,” Gov. Janet Mills said during Thursday’s media briefing “We are eager to get shots in arms.”

Mills said optimism is high with more doses coming to Maine and people seeing their friends and neighbors getting shots.

“People are seeing the joy in the eyes of the people who are getting vaccinated,” she said.

The state previously had planned to expand eligibility on April 19, but as more doses have flowed into Maine, demand for appointments has begun to wane in some areas among those 50 and older who are currently eligible, prompting the administration to move up its timeline by 12 days.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of logistical hurdles so far, and we have prepared well,” Mills said. “We are ready for this next stage.”

A huge influx of doses is giving state officials the confidence to open up eligibility to an additional 470,000 Mainers starting next week.

Not only is the state allocation increasing by about 10,000 doses – to 54,790 doses next week – but doses from the federal retail pharmacy program coming into Maine next week should also be much higher, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shah said the retail pharmacy program is likely to receive more than 20,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the week of April 5, more than tripling the roughly 6,000 Johnson & Johnson doses it received this week. If the Pfizer and Moderna doses hold steady – and those also could increase as Biden administration officials have said they are prioritizing the federal retail pharmacy program – Maine’s allocation in the pharmacy program could be about 40,000 doses next week.

That means Maine’s overall vaccine supply could be over 90,000 doses next week and could approach 100,000. If those numbers hold, the supply would be about double what Maine was receiving just a few weeks ago and more than triple the amounts Maine was getting in early February. The actual numbers for the pharmacy program will be released by the federal government over the weekend.

Shah said health officials have been “overjoyed” to see the surge in vaccine supply.

The retail pharmacy program – which includes Walmart, Sam’s Club, Hannaford, Shaw’s and Walgreens pharmacies – had been prioritizing teachers and child care staff under a Biden administration directive. But the pharmacies opened eligibility to everyone 50 and over on Wednesday and will vaccinate anyone 16 or older beginning next Wednesday.

Mills said the state is working on adding more mass vaccination sites soon, including perhaps a drive-thru location in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Mass vaccination sites currently open include the Portland Expo, Scarborough Downs, the former Marshalls store in Sanford, the Auburn Mall and Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

In addition to mass vaccination sites, Shah said to expect more doses going to independent pharmacies, independent physicians, paramedics and community health clinics. Some of those groups, such as independent pharmacies and paramedics, can open up “pop-up” mobile vaccination clinics in harder-to-reach rural areas of Maine.

Shah said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be the one primarily used for pop-up sites and in rural areas, as it is a one-shot vaccine and doesn’t require a follow-up appointment. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require second doses three or four weeks after the initial shot.

Mills urged Mainers to be patient with vaccine providers Thursday and not to expect appointments immediately.

“While this is a great step forward, Maine people should keep in mind that even though they are eligible it will still take time to get an appointment and get a vaccine,” she said. “We will continue to work with vaccine providers across Maine to get shots into arms as quickly as we can.”

To preregister for an appointment, go to vaccinateME.maine.gov.

Starting next week, the vaccinateME.maine.gov website will be open for registrations for everyone 16 and older, or to redirect people to sites that have already been conducting registrations, such as Northern Light Health or MaineHealth.

Maine reported 283 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the second day in a row in which cases topped 250. There were no additional deaths.

As the vaccination effort accelerates, Maine is experiencing an increase in daily case counts among populations who are not yet eligible for vaccination.

The seven-day daily average of new cases has increased from 196.4 a week ago to 231.4 on Thursday. That’s still far below the peak of more than 600 cases per day in mid-January, but cases have been trending upward. Currently, there are 74 people in Maine hospitalized with COVID-19, including 20 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, 435,700 people in Maine have received at least the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, representing 32.4 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million population. Also, 277,098, or  20.6 percent of the population, have received a final dose.

Of those in the 50-to-59 age group, 37 percent, or 71,217 of the 194,000 people in the group, have received at least the first dose of the vaccine since they became eligible on March 23. For those 60 and older, 72 percent, or 283,716 of the 394,000 people in the age group, have gotten at least the first dose.

More than 20,000 shots were given in Maine on Wednesday, a new record.

National news reports on Wednesday said 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine were spoiled at a Baltimore manufacturing facility, but it will not affect next week’s supply. According to a company statement, the manufacturer, Emergent Biosolutions in Baltimore, was not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration to manufacture doses for Johnson & Johnson and that the batch that was ruined was “never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process.”

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said in a statement that “our federal partners have confirmed that Maine will receive the full scheduled allocation of 20,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week. The doses of J&J vaccine that Maine will receive were not manufactured in the affected facility.”

Shah said that federal officials do not believed that Johnson & Johnson supplies will be affected much, if at all, in the next few weeks, as the Baltimore site was not yet manufacturing the vaccine.

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