Mid Coast Hospital Pulmonologist Paul LaPrad receives the hospitals first COVID-19 vaccination on Wednesday, administered by Laura Labbe, a registered nurse at CHANS Home Health and Hospice. Photo courtesy of Judy Kelsh

BRUNSWICK — Mid Coast Hospital administered its first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, marking an important moment in the region’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic as state numbers continue to climb. 

“Today is the day we just turned the corner,” said Chris Bowe, chief medical officer. “It’s a huge corner and there’s still a long road ahead but it’s a momentous corner.”

Paul LaPrad, a pulmonologist who has been caring for COVID-19 patients since March, was the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

“Over the past few months, we’ve endured much concern for patients and colleagues,” he said. “It’s nice to have hope that this will be over soon.”

“We were sitting there and we were asking each person, what are you most looking forward to” when the virus is over, Bowe said in an interview Wednesday. “Everyone had a family to visit, or wanted to watch a movie in a theater, somewhere to travel. … It’s a possibility in 2021,” he said.  

After LaPrad, more than 50 Mid Coast Hospital caregivers including physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists were also vaccinated.

According to hospital officials, this week, distribution is focused on intensive care unit teams, emergency department caregivers and those providing care in dedicated COVID-19 inpatient units. 

Patient-facing hospital staff will receive the vaccine first, followed by patient-facing staff in the agency’s practices and home care clinicians. 

As a priority population, residents and staff at Mid Coast Senior Health will also be vaccinated in the next few weeks in accordance with CDC guidance.

It will still be some time before vaccines are available for patients, likely not until late spring or early summer, Bowe said. 

“The CDC will determine the criteria for distribution to patients, and we are actively preparing for patient vaccine distribution per their guidelines when it becomes available.”

The hospital received 25 vials of the vaccine, with each vial containing five doses.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored in an “ultra low temperature freezer,” something Bowe said Mid Coast Hospital was lucky to have in the lab, though Bowdoin College also has one they offered to lend if need be. 

Hospital officials anticipate a second shipment, this time over about 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, sometime next week.

Mid Coast Parkview Health employs just over 2,000 so to vaccinate everyone on staff will require an as-of-yet unscheduled third shipment, he said. 

Bowe added that despite the fast turnaround for the vaccine, “it’s critical for people to understand that there’s a scientific process to the approval of a vaccine. Those processes were followed… This has been evaluated carefully and appropriately as any vaccine would be.”

“We believe it’s safe. Medical staff are excited to receive it and administer it safely to our patients as we turn a corner of this pandemic,” he said. 

Mid Coast Hospital is not mandating the vaccine for employees but is encouraging it.

Maine is expected to get about 75,000 doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of December, the Portland Press Herald reported, with distribution ramping up in 2021.

The first doses of the vaccine arrived early this week, and health officials said Tuesday that Maine Medical Center nurse Kayla Mitchell was likely the first person in Maine to receive the COVID-19 vaccine with thousands more expected to follow. 

The milestone arrived just one day before Manie shattered its daily coronavirus case record, reporting 551 new cases on Wednesday. It was the first time cases have topped 500 and comes less than two weeks after Maine first cleared 400 daily cases, with 425 on Dec. 6, according to the Press Herald. 

The seven-day daily average increased to 409.3 on Wednesday, compared to 329.7 a week ago and 177.3 a month ago. It took only one week for the seven-day average to increase from 300 cases to more than 400 cases. 

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 17,311 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, and 267 deaths. Total cases have doubled in a little more than a month. 

Of the more than 17,000 confirmed or probable cases statewide, 112 have been in Brunswick, 61 in Freeport, 43 in Topsham and 41 in Bath, according to data from the Maine CDC most recently updated Dec. 6. 

According to hospital spokesperson Judy Kelsh, Mid Coast Hospital is currently treating 10 inpatients for COVID-19. Since March, they have treated 51 patients for the virus at the hospital. There have been 293 confirmed positive tests since March, with 86 of those just this month. 

LaPrad said he feels completely fine post-vaccine, is working his normal day and “didn’t even feel the injection.”

“There have been no ill effects and I don’t anticipate anything,” he said, noting that he will receive a second dose of the vaccine in three weeks. 

The vaccine is a huge step in getting on the other side of the virus, but LaPrad cautioned that people should not let down their guard.

With the cold weather driving people inside and the holidays prompting more get-togethers, the next  few months are likely going to be “pretty rugged.”

“Do the things we’ve been told for months to do,” he said, like handwashing, wearing a mask and keeping at least six feet aparts. “It’s relentless, so we need to be relentless too.”

“I’m looking forward to other people being able to receive it,” he said of the vaccine. “It’s a good day.” 

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