AUGUSTA — Small COVID-19 vaccination clinics could be coming to Augusta by next week, according to MaineGeneral Medical Center officials.

On Tuesday, spokesperson Joy McKenna said MaineGeneral has infrastructure in place for smaller clinics that will be operational next week at the Alfond Center for Health. She said larger community vaccination clinics are in the works, but those plans have been complicated by limited vaccine supply, staffing and location questions.

According to a registry of vaccination sites on the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s website, phone numbers or online registration is available for 32 of the 39 sites listed. The other seven, including MaineGeneral, are listed as “preparing to begin scheduling appointments.”

Farmingdale resident Rosemary Moeykins said she and her husband, both over 70, were searching for a place to get a vaccine and found it odd that MaineGeneral had not set up appointments for vaccination.

“I know there’s a shortage of vaccine, but you need to get in line,” she said. “I just think it’s odd they haven’t put some word out.”

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah touched on an upcoming statewide registration system that could be ready in three to four weeks in his Tuesday press briefing. He said that phone system can be used by people looking to make appointments for themselves or others.

Shah said the federal government was tasked with making a unified platform for nationwide use, but it did not meet Maine’s needs. He said the state declined to use it and began working on its own system.

“I want to have a system that actually takes those preregistrations and do something with them,” Shah said.

Maine is in phase 1A of vaccination until the end of January. That phase prioritizes health care personnel needed to preserve critical services, long-term care facility residents and staff, patient-facing health care personnel, public safety personnel and “critical COVID-19 response personnel” to be vaccinated.

Phase 1B, which is slated for February, prioritizes people 65 years and older, adults who have high-risk medical conditions and critical front-line workers for vaccination. Additional priority has been given to those 70 and older, some of whom were vaccinated last week.

According to a Portland Press Herald report published Monday, Maine is receiving 18,000 doses of vaccine a week from the federal government. Shah said during Tuesday’s briefing that Maine is “extremely supply constrained” when it comes to vaccine, given the state’s about 190,000 people who are 70 and older.

If the supply were to increase, however, Shah said that he was confident that health care organizations in Maine could provide it to residents.

“If and when that happens, we are ready to get those shots into arms,” he said.

Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said community vaccination clinics are not in place yet in Maine because the state does not have sufficient amounts of vaccine to supply them. Current vaccination clinics, he said, are being run by “health systems or pharmacies that have met the criteria to vaccinate people in phase 1 quickly and fairly, with minimal chance of wasting doses.”

When asked about the distinction between existing clinics in Waterville and Brunswick, and community vaccination sites, Long said the difference was largely semantic.

“We have not assigned a specific number to denote a community vaccination clinic,” he said. “We just call the ones that the hospitals, health systems and pharmacies are doing now ‘vaccination clinics.’

“Simply, the community vaccination clinics will be designed to vaccinate hundreds of people six or seven days a week,” Long added. “They will go live when the federal government can provide enough vaccine to keep them open. We don’t want to get into a situation that other states have experienced, in which people go to a mass vaccination site only to learn that there are no doses left.”

McKenna said the hospital is currently hiring staff for vaccination sites and working with the CDC to find a location for “mass vaccination clinics.” That facility would have to be able to safely hold people for 15 minutes for observation after the vaccine is administered, which limits how many people can get the vaccine at a time.

“I think the bottom line is that there are a great number of logistics that go into creating a community vaccination clinic, but the biggest issue is the amount of vaccine we receive,” she said. “Without the vaccine we cannot open up scheduling for COVID-19 vaccination clinics.”

McKenna said the hospital is working on a new phone-only system for registration, but it is now in the test phase to ensure it is working properly when it goes live.

“Once we are ready to open up the registration process, with limited vaccine, we will only register those we feel we can provide the vaccine to with the numbers of vaccine we expect to get,” McKenna said. “This will mean that the initial clinics will fill up quickly.”

“We are working with the state to determine our next shipment of vaccine and the number we will receive,” McKenna added. “We don’t want to be in the position (of opening) scheduling only to find we don’t have the vaccine.”

McKenna said MaineGeneral is still working to vaccinate staff members and people in phase 1A of the vaccination plan. She said MaineGeneral has administered COVID-19 vaccine to 3,530 staff and community members to date.

When asked about MaineGeneral’s readiness compared to Waterville’s Inland Hospital, which has an online portal for registration, McKenna said that Inland is under the umbrella of Northern Light Health, which is the second-largest health system in the state.

“There are differences about when clinics are beginning across the state, but that’s a matter of days, and each hospital is creating its own system,” she said. “We have been diligently planning for community clinics, and it’s about the amount of vaccine we get and how confident we are of vaccine coming in so we have a responsible way to get the clinics scheduled and get people the vaccine they want and need.”

The Maine CDC reported 662 new COVID-19 cases and 11 additional deaths Tuesday.

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