Capt. Nate Contreras administers the Moderna vaccine Monday to Mathew Thornton, a Scarborough firefighter and EMT, at Scarborough Public Safety headquarters. Scarborough first responders will vaccinate each other for the next few days and then go to smaller stations to administer the vaccine to other emergency medical workers. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to licensed emergency medical responders is ramping up this week, as more doses arrived Monday for frontline workers in Portland, Scarborough and Gorham.

Shipments for emergency medical service workers began arriving late last week, and a delivery of 300 more doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived Monday and was divided equally among the three Cumberland County departments. After EMS workers in Portland, Scarborough and Gorham are vaccinated, those three departments are expected to work with county emergency management staff to administer the vaccine to about 1,000 other emergency medical workers in the county. Similar efforts are getting underway in the state’s other counties.

The effort to vaccinate first responders represents an expansion of the state’s vaccine rollout, which began with front-line hospital workers and nursing home residents and staff. The state is still allocating vaccine to those top-priority groups, but this week’s allocation of 19,125 doses also is being shared by emergency medical responders and residents of assisted living facilities.

The state reported that a total of 17,180 Mainers had been vaccinated as of Monday afternoon.

About 2,300 doses were being delivered to 19 EMS providers statewide as part of the latest round. Portland received the largest allotment of 300 doses, followed by 200 doses each to Delta Ambulance and Northern Light Medical Transport. The other agencies are receiving an initial allotment of 100 doses each.

Larger departments are receiving the vaccine first. In York County, the Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach and Sanford fire departments are first in line and their emergency medical technicians began vaccinating fellow first responders last week.

Once the larger departments vaccinate their own staffs, they will begin administering the vaccine to surrounding departments.

After EMS staff receive their doses, police, non-EMS licensed firefighters and 911 dispatchers will be next in line.

Vaccination began Saturday in Portland, when it received an initial batch. By Monday morning, about 80 people had received their first dose, said Fire Chief Keith Gautreau. By the end of this week, he estimated that 50 more people will receive it.

Scarborough firefighter and paramedic Steve Higgins draws up a dose of the Moderna vaccine Monday. The effort to vaccinate first responders represents an expansion of the state’s vaccine rollout.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland’s allotment means the department will have enough vaccine to cover the city’s roughly 200 EMS employees, but it’s impossible to predict how quickly all first responders will have access. Gautreau and other fire chiefs around the state are at the mercy of the state’s allotment system and the federal distribution schedule, which changes weekly.

“The state has indicated we will get a delivery every week, but they don’t indicate the quantity,” Gautreau said.

On Monday, the distribution plan looked more like a relay race.

A member of the Portland Fire Department hand-delivered 200 doses to Scarborough. Then 100 of those doses were ferried to Gorham by Scarborough Deputy Fire Chief Richard Kindlan.

Kindlan said administration of the vaccine would begin immediately on Monday evening.

Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said that once the three agencies responsible for countywide vaccine administration are vaccinated themselves, they will organize clinics in concert with county officials to reach the EMTs and paramedics in other parts of the county.

Capt. Nate Contreras vaccinates Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Lamoria on Monday at Scarborough Public Safety headquarters. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But making plans has been difficult, Thurlow said, because the allotment of vaccine each week is so far an unknown.

“If we knew for sure that we were to get 500 doses on this date, it would be easier to come up with a plan, but that’s unfortunately not how the system is working,” Thurlow said. “We can’t go too far down that road to do clinics before we know we have vaccine to distribute.”

Cumberland County’s Emergency Management Agency will assist in that process soon, said EMA director Matt Mahar. But right now, Mahar said, he is still waiting on information about how to assist in the process. They’re still gathering basic information and making plans, he said, including canvassing departments to learn the true number of active EMS staff.

EMS workers are licensed by the state, and a 2018 report, the most recent year for which statistics are available, showed there were roughly 1,000 EMS licensees in Cumberland County at that time. But Mahar believes the figure now could be higher.

“It’s very fluid,” Mahar said. “A lot depends on the state’s ability to get vaccines.”

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