MaineGeneral Health received 775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday morning at the Alfond Center for Health in Augusta and will start giving out vaccinations Wednesday.

“We expect to begin administering the vaccine tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 16,” Steve Diaz, MaineGeneral Health’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday in a statement. “The vaccine will be distributed on a tiered system. We are first offering to vaccinate physicians and other medical staff, nursing staff and respiratory therapists who work on our COVID-19 unit, critical care unit and the emergency department as required by the state.”

Diaz said the vaccination process is an important step in ending the pandemic.

Beth Arsenault, left, pharmacy manager at MaineGeneral’s Alfond Center for Health in Augusta, and Andrea Gimpel-Blanchard, pharmacy director, received MaineGeneral’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines – a total of 775 from the State of Maine – on Tuesday. Photo by John Begin

“We have planned for and are ready to provide vaccinations to our frontline health care workers,” he said. “We are operating the vaccinations as we do for season flu, using a computer-based system to determine who wants the vaccine and having in-house clinics. In this case, we have limited vaccine, and so the tiered process needed to be established. We are well-prepared and expect as smooth a process as possible.”

Diaz said MaineGeneral Health officials appreciate all that its staff has done and continues to do “to help ensure the safety of patients, residents, clients, visitors and each other.”

“The entire vaccination process will take some time,” he said. “We encourage everyone to continue to practice the public health measures (hand washing, masking, social distancing) to help reduce the spread of the virus.”

MaineGeneral Health received the vaccine Tuesday as 411 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths were reported in Maine. To date, 265 people have died from COVID in the state.

Meanwhile, Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville may be receiving the Moderna vaccine within days. That vaccine is expected to be approved soon by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, possibly by the end of the week.

Rick Barry, a registered nurse and vice president of nursing and patient care services at Inland, said Monday in a statement that because the hospital does not have the ultra-low temperature freezers required for the Pfizer vaccine, it is awaiting FDA approval of the Moderna vaccine.

“We expect it to be approved this month and have the vaccine delivered shortly thereafter,” Barry said. “A specific date is not available yet since the vaccine is awaiting approval. The Pfizer vaccines arrived this morning at both Northern Light Mercy Hospital and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Northern Light AR Gould Hospital is expecting their shipment either later today or tomorrow. All of these Northern Light hospitals have the required storage freezers for the Pfizer vaccine.”

Barry said Inland expects to receive 100 to 200 doses as part of the first phase of the Moderna vaccine distribution,

“We will start vaccinating staff working closely with COVID-19 patients first and expand to additional staff as more vaccine becomes available,” he said. “Examples include physicians, nurses and techs working in the emergency department, inpatient care areas, and COVID-19 screening locations. The vaccine is voluntary for all staff.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, reported Monday that 198 people were hospitalized in Maine, 56 were in intensive care units and 17 were on ventilators.

On Tuesday, the number of deaths in the U.S. had surpassed 301,000.

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