Pedestrians cross the intersection of Temple Street and Middle Street in Portland on Friday night. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that federal projections of Maine’s share of the initial shipments of the first COVD-19 vaccine expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been slashed by nearly two-thirds.

Mills said  it was “alarming” to see the reduction in shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, which could begin arriving in mid-December.

“Most alarming, the federal government, it appeared to us, significantly reduced the estimate of the number of Maine’s initial allocation of the Pfizer vaccine from around 36,000 to about 12,675 doses,” Mills said in a media briefing Wednesday. “This is far less than what is needed for Maine and proportionally for other states as well.”

Mills said she participated in a conference call on Monday with Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and governors from other states to discuss vaccine distribution. No answers were given for why the vaccine shipment numbers were lower than expected, Mills said.

“Other governors chimed in and said ‘Yeah ours is a lot less than expected, too,'” Mills said. She said Pence assured governors that the formula used was strictly based on population, and that no states were being singled out to be shortchanged.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “for a brief period” a special online dashboard that the state agency can access showed about 36,000 doses were expected. But the number dropped to 12,675 this week. The dashboard is part of Operation Warp Speed, the name given to the partnership between the federal government and private companies to quickly develop, manufacture and distribute a vaccine.

“We are asking questions, chief among them, ‘What happened?'” Shah said.

Shah said it’s possible states will receive smaller but more frequent deliveries of batches of the vaccine that would add up to the amount expected, but he said it’s unknown if that is the federal plan or if there are other issues affecting shipments.

Mills said the state had asked Maine’s congressional delegation for assistance.

“We are aware and are asking the same questions of the federal government in DC,” said Matthew Felling, a spokesman for Sen. Angus King, an independent. “We are in contact with the governor’s office and are planning on having a group conversation in the upcoming days.”

Felling said King’s office contacted the Department of Health and Human Services via email Wednesday and was awaiting a response. A spokesman for Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, said Golden also is looking into the issue and plans to work with the governor and rest of the delegation to determine the best path forward.

A spokesman for Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she has asked Health and Human Services and the U.S. CDC about the allocation and distribution of the vaccines, and to make sure that Maine gets its fair share. Collins’ office said the Maine delegation hopes to have more details about the process when it speaks with Mills on Friday.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, did not respond to questions on Wednesday.

According to a COVID-19 vaccine planner tool for states published by Harvard University, Maine would expect to receive about 40,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine based on an initial projected shipment of 20 million doses. The company hopes to gain FDA emergency approval of the vaccine on Dec. 14.

Each person needs two doses of the vaccine, and the 12,675 doses now slated for Maine would be for the initial dose, while that same amount would be held in reserve by the federal government and sent out soon after for the booster shot, Shah said. Booster shots would be administered three weeks after the initial shot.

Shah first reported that the initial shipment to Maine would be about 12,000 doses in a media briefing on Monday, but he did not mention the reduced allocation at that time.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said Shah didn’t disclose the reduction because information was changing rapidly on Monday about vaccine distribution.

“In this rapidly evolving situation, details about a vaccine distribution plan change often. Meetings were occurring as Dr. Shah was participating in Monday’s briefing,” Long said in a statement. “We anticipate that the landscape will continue to shift. Maine CDC’s approach is to be prepared to quickly, safely and effectively deliver whatever allocation we receive. Our focus is on implementation, not expectations.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to questions from the Press Herald on Wednesday afternoon. At a briefing with national media and Health and Human Services, Army Gen. Gustave Perna responded to a reporter’s question about why certain states are seeing smaller vaccine allocations than they had originally thought they would receive. Perna said that instead of waiting until the end of December to distribute a cumulative amount of vaccine, doses that are available earlier will be distributed first and states can expect to see additional allocations as more vaccines are certified and approved for distribution.

“It’s not a one-and-done,” Perna said. “It’s an initial push and then a continual cadenced flow of vaccine for planning and coordination and execution.”

Another vaccine could be approved by the FDA this month. Massachusetts-based Moderna is expected to have its initial distribution Dec. 22, according to news reports, with 18 million doses available nationally in December. Shah has said he doesn’t yet know how much of the Moderna vaccine will be sent to Maine in an initial shipment.

Regardless of first shipments, the bulk of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are expected to be rolled out in 2021, with hundreds of millions of doses distributed by the spring. The vaccine could be widely available to all Americans by spring or summer, public health experts have said.

The U.S. CDC has prioritized health care workers and residents of long-term facilities as the first groups to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and Maine’s plan for vaccine distribution puts health-care workers first in line.

Shah said those first recipients would be those whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to the virus.

Maine reported 232 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and four additional deaths.

The seven-day daily average of new cases now stands at 169.4, compared to 217 a week ago, and 78.7 a month ago. Of Wednesday’s new cases, 37 were in York County, 36 in Cumberland County, 35 in Penobscot County and 27 in Hancock County.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has logged 12,208 cases of COCID-19, and 218 people have died.

Mills is quarantining after potentially being exposed to COVID-19 by a member of her Maine State Police security detail who began showing symptoms and then tested positive. She is expected to be tested on Thursday. She said her exposure to the member of the Executive Protection Unit was brief, they were both wearing masks and she is not experiencing any symptoms.

“I’ve been in a bubble anyway, it’s just a little tighter bubble,” Mills said. The governor said she has a duct-tape “moat” designating a 6-foot distance from her desk, though she has had very few visitors since March, as most of her work is being done remotely.

The 232 new cases continues a trend of high daily case counts and comes a day after Maine reported 20 new deaths.

Hospitalizations have risen sharply in the wake of rising case numbers, with 138 COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals on Wednesday, including 46 in critical care and 19 on a ventilator. The CDC is expected to update hospitalization data later today.

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