Retail pharmacies in Maine will receive 34,190 doses of vaccine this week through a partnership with the federal government, the most to date and an increase of 46 percent over last week.

That means the state’s total allotment this week is more than 91,000 doses. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced last Thursday that it will receive 54,790 doses for hospitals, outpatient groups, public safety agencies and others, as well as another 2,100 doses to federally qualified health centers to help vaccinate people in underserved communities.

The big increase comes as the state prepares to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older beginning Wednesday.

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

Meanwhile, the state reported 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and one additional death. It was the seventh consecutive day of at least 200 cases.

Additionally, hospitalizations increased to 82, the highest total in nearly three weeks. Of those, 32 are in critical care, which is the highest since early February.

Maine, like many states, is racing to vaccinate as many residents as possible to stave off another surge in new cases.

As of Monday, Maine reported 459,409 people had received at least the first dose of the vaccine, representing 34.2 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people. Also, 309,710 had received their final dose, or 23 percent of the population.

The state is now administering an average of 14,449 doses each day, an increase of 42 percent in two weeks.

Maine is the fourth-best state in the country for its efficiency in getting at least the first dose of a vaccine administered, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker, with only New Mexico, New Hampshire and Connecticut vaccinating at a faster pace. Bloomberg calculates the first dose somewhat differently than Maine CDC because it includes the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine with the first dose, while Maine CDC counts the J&J vaccine with the final dose. Using Bloomberg’s metrics, Maine has given at least the first dose to 37.8 percent of the population, compared to the U.S. average of 32 percent.

Among older residents who are at greater risk of serious illness or death, Maine is much further along; 75 percent of those 70 or older are fully vaccinated and 66 percent of those in their 60s have received their first shot.

Retail pharmacies are set to play an increasing role in vaccinations going forward. In addition to Walmart/Sam’s Club, Walgreens and Hannaford, the federal government will send doses this week to Shaw’s and CVS locations, as well as Good Neighbor, which operates pharmacies in Aroostook County, and MedShoppe, which has locations in Androscoggin County.

It is hoped the distribution of vaccine doses to more places will help address some of the geographic disparity in vaccinations. In Cumberland County, 38 percent of residents have had one shot and 26 percent are fully vaccinated. In Androscoggin, just 28 percent have had their first dose and only 18 percent have received a final dose.

Of the 34,190 doses going to retail pharmacies this week, 21,100 will be the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 8,190 will be from Pfizer and 4,900 will be Moderna.

Despite strong progress on vaccinations, new cases of COVID-19 have been rising steadily for at least a month. Maine’s seven-day daily case average stood at 282 on Monday, up from 207 cases two weeks ago and 167 this time last month. Since the pandemic began, there have been 51,986 recorded cases of COVID-19 and 746 deaths.

 

Seventy-six of the 223 new cases Monday – or 34 percent – were individuals under 20, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations. However, 64 new cases were among those in their 50s, and 42 were among those in their 60s – two age categories that have been eligible for vaccines for some time.

U.S. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday that the country’s seven-day average is about 64,000 new cases, up 7 percent over the previous seven-day period. Hospital admissions also have increased by about 3 percent in the last week. She said cases are being driven by coronavirus variants that are more transmissible, and by young people. She said many outbreaks have been tied to youth sports and extracurricular activities.

There have been just over 12,500 cases of the United Kingdom variant detected, 19 percent of them in Florida alone, as well as 323 cases of the South Africa variant and 224 cases of the Brazil variant.

As of last Thursday, Maine had detected 15 cases of the U.K. variant, four cases of the South African variant and one case of the Brazil variant.

Those variant counts are likely much higher, though, because only a small percentage of positive COVID-19 tests are sent for genomic sequencing to determine if they are a variant. Maine has sequenced 2,068 tests since January, or about 4.1 percent of all positive tests, and trails only Hawaii and Wyoming among states with the highest percentage. The national rate is only about 1 percent.

“While we are watching these increasing case counts with concern, the good news is that millions of Americans are stepping up every day to get vaccinated,” Walensky said.

The U.S. is averaging about 3.1 million shots per day and went over 4 million for the first time over the weekend, White House senior pandemic adviser Andy Slavitt said Monday.

“So, we’re headed in the right direction, but as you heard the president say, we’re not there yet,” he said. “The war against COVID-19 is far from over, far from won. The worst thing we can do right now is mistake progress for victory.”

There also are increasing signs about the effectiveness of vaccines. Pfizer issued its six-month update on Monday and reported zero hospitalizations in a control group of people who were vaccinated, compared to 32 people hospitalized in the placebo group. Pfizer also reported that in South Africa, where the variant known as B.1.1351 is dominant, there have been zero cases among vaccinated people compared to nine in the placebo group.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this story

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