The thousands of vials of COVID-19 vaccine that arrived in Maine this week came with an unexpected bonus – each contains at least one extra dose.

Maine and other states effectively received 20 percent more doses than expected in the first round of shipments, allowing hospitals to protect more front-line workers as part of the initial vaccine rollout, said Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Maine CDC informed hospitals of this change as soon as the (Food and Drug Administration) announced it yesterday,” Long said on Thursday. “Given the supply shortage of COVID vaccine, the availability of approximately 20 percent more Pfizer vaccine is welcome and significant news.”

Long said the chief medical officers at each hospital informed the Maine CDC that nearly every glass vial contained extra vaccine, enough for six or seven injections instead of five.

There was some initial confusion in parts of the country about whether hospitals could use the extra vaccine. The FDA issued guidance saying it was OK to use all full doses in the vials, but not to use partial doses. The Maine CDC said Thursday that the extra doses will be administered in accordance with the prioritization plan that’s already being followed.

In a statement, Pfizer said there is a uniform amount of vaccine in every vial, but that the amount left over after five doses are removed could vary based on the type of syringes and needles, as well as the amount of diluting solution used.

The bonus doses also may complicate matters down the road because each person who receives the vaccine must get an equivalent dose in 21 days for the full immune effect. Officials in some states are worried those doses won’t arrive according to the schedule the federal government has provided. And now there is concern about whether the follow-up shipments also will have the extra doses.

The good news about extra doses came shortly before Maine and others states learned Thursday that the next shipments of Pfizer vaccine will be significantly smaller than expected. Maine will receive 8,775 doses rather than the 13,650 doses previously estimated, a reduction of about 36 percent. The reasons for the reduction were not immediately clear.

The first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine that Maine received this week was expected to include 12,675 vaccine doses to be used for front-line hospital workers and residents and staff members of 94 nursing homes across the state. The extra vaccine that arrived in the vials could provide roughly 2,500 additional doses.

Even with the extra doses, the first delivery was just a start. Maine has about 75,000 health care workers who have direct contact with patients and about 6,200 residents in skilled nursing homes.

Hospitals across the state began vaccinating front-line health care workers with the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and nearly 1,000 people had been vaccinated as of late Thursday morning, according to the Maine CDC.

“There are no reports of any adverse effects and no reports of any problems with the vaccine program,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC.

The vaccinations began at Maine Medical Center in Portland, which has cared for the highest number of COVID-19 patients in Maine and had had a record-setting number of new patients during the ongoing surge of infections.

Some other large hospitals in Maine began inoculating staff Wednesday, while St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston administered its first vaccinations Thursday.

Debra Charest, an intensive care unit nurse, and Peter Bagley, an intensive care unit doctor, rolled up their sleeves in tandem Thursday to become the first St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“If it’s going to protect me while I’m here for the patients … then I want all the protection I can get,” Charest said.

More than two dozen smaller Maine hospitals could receive vaccines next week if, as expected, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves use of a second anti-COVID vaccine developed by Moderna. It is expected to receive emergency authorization as soon as Friday.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are administered in two doses about three weeks apart.

People who receive the vaccine will receive a card that reminds them when they were vaccinated, as well as where and when they need to return for a second shot, the Maine CDC said.

While the Pfizer vaccine must be transported and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), the Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage and can be distributed more broadly, including to first responders and to smaller hospitals.

A group of fire chiefs in York County is preparing to help distribute the next round of COVID-19 vaccine to first responders.

The York County Chiefs’ Association said it is partnering with multiple state agencies to distribute the Moderna vaccine to emergency medical service personnel. That vaccine is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration as soon as Friday, and the first deliveries could reach Maine next week.

Frontline EMS workers have been identified as a high-priority group by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are among the first groups nationwide to receive vaccinations against the virus.


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