The Biden administration announced plans Tuesday for a modest increase in COVID-19 vaccine shipments as Maine and other states struggle to inoculate even high-risk individuals.

The White House also is launching a nationwide program next week that will allow eligible people to get vaccinated at their local pharmacies, although it is unclear when that partnership program will be available on a broad scale in Maine.

The office of President Joe Biden said deliveries of vaccines to states will increase by 5 percent later this week and will remain at that level for the next three weeks. The increase is on top of a 16 percent bump in vaccine deliveries by the Biden administration that sent an additional 2,800 doses to Maine beginning this week.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said he was still waiting for final figures on Maine’s share of the latest increase. But Shah welcomed any additional doses at a time when the roughly 20,000 doses being delivered to Maine weekly only covers a slice of the 190,000-plus Mainers age 70 or older who are currently eligible for vaccination, much less everyone else in Phase 1B.

Shah said the increases – likely in the hundreds or perhaps 1,000 additional doses – will at least provide additional predictability and stability in the coming weeks.

“This is good news and it will mean that we can make sure that all of 1A as well as 1B are starting to get vaccinated,” Shah said.

The Biden administration also announced that, starting on Feb. 11, the federal government will partner with dozens of national pharmacies, supermarket chains and other retailers with pharmacies to provide COVID-19 vaccinations.

The White House listed CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart, as well as the Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets, as participants in the program. But it was unclear when vaccines will be available at locations in Maine

A state-by-state list of pharmacy chains slated to receive vaccine shipments next week lists only Walmart in Maine.

A spokeswoman from Walmart’s corporate office said the company will release a list of stores participating in the vaccination program “in the coming weeks.” A blog post on Tuesday by Walmart’s vice president for health and wellness operations, Amanda Jenkins, said the company expects to begin receiving a “limited allocation” of doses of vaccine at pharmacies in the 22 participating states next week.

“Once our locations have received the vaccines, eligible customers and members can reserve a convenient vaccine appointment directly via a scheduling tool on the Walmart and Sam’s Club websites, while allocation lasts,” Jenkins wrote. “In addition to appointments, the scheduler will provide a digital reminder when it’s time to return for the second dose of the vaccine in order for the vaccine to be fully effective.”

Maine is not on the list of initial states where CVS and Walgreens will offer vaccinations at pharmacies. Both retail chains are involved with vaccinations at long-term care facilities in Maine, although the slow pace of those inoculations has prompted Maine CDC officials to redirect thousands of doses to independent pharmacies.

“As more vaccine supply becomes available, we expect our pharmacies to be activated in more states,” Joe Goode, spokesman for CVS Health, wrote in an email to the Press Herald. “Once the program is fully operational, vaccines will eventually be available at CVS Pharmacy locations throughout the country subject to product availability, with the capacity to administer 20 – 25 million shots per month.”

A representative for Shaw’s, Teresa Edington, indicated that there is no specific timeline for when vaccinations could begin at the chain’s stores in Maine. Shaw’s is one of more than a dozen supermarket chains nationwide owned by Albertsons Companies.

Registered nurse Jess Addy, right, administers a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last week to Connie Winship, 72, of Waterville at a clinic set up by Northern Light Inland Hospital at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. Northern Light Inland Hospital photo

“Our company’s pharmacies are an early partner in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington state,” the company said in a statement. “As noted by the CDC, supply will be limited in the initial phase of the partnership. As vaccine supply increases, more of our pharmacies will participate in this federal program.”

A representative for Hannaford did not respond to questions about the stores in Maine participating in the program. Hannaford, which operates 156 stores in New England and New York, announced in December that the chain had purchased freezers and protective equipment, developed digital scheduling tools and begun training pharmacy staff in anticipation of offering vaccinations.

Shah said there are “still more questions than answers” about the federal program. But he said he understands that the vaccine shipments to pharmacies will be on top of — rather than being taken out of — the current supplies to Maine and other states. Maine had expected to receive enough doses this week to administer 20,375 initial shots with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

“What that precise number is, indexed to Maine, that’s the question on the table,” Shah said.

Maine’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 continues to expand, albeit at a slower pace than desired because of the national shortage of doses. Tuesday’s snowstorm also prompted the cancelation of many vaccination clinics in the state.

As of Tuesday morning, health care providers had administered 117,613 first doses to individuals in Maine as well as 40,458 second doses with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. That means 8.7 percent of the state’s population has received a first dose and 3 percent has received a second dose.

The Maine CDC also reported 23 deaths Tuesday among individuals with COVID-19, as well as 417 additional cases of the viral disease.

As Maine enters the eleventh month of the global pandemic, the state has been experiencing a downward trend in new cases reported daily compared to a month ago, although new infections are still exponentially higher than during the summer. However, Tuesday’s 23 deaths was one of the largest totals reported to date.

Not all of those deaths occurred in the preceding days. As was the case on other days with abnormally large death tolls for Maine, the vast majority of the deaths reported Tuesday – 21 of the 23 – occurred in recent weeks and were only linked to COVID-19 during a review of vital records by Maine CDC staff.

Yet more than 65 percent of Maine’s 618 deaths have occurred since Thanksgiving, and more than 85 percent of those who have died after contracting COVID in Maine were age 70 or older.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases stood at 323 on Tuesday, down from 493 daily cases for the week ending Jan. 25. Maine’s highest seven-day average of 626 cases occurred on Jan. 15 at a time when the state was experiencing a string of days with 800-plus cases, according to figures from the Maine CDC.

To date, there have been 39,960 total confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since March, with 70 percent of those occurring since Dec. 1.

The Maine CDC reported a total of 4,090 shots were administered on Monday, lifting the total to date to 158,071 shots (both first and second doses). The highest number of shots administered in a single day was 8,827 last Thursday.

The first phase of vaccinations, which is close to wrapping up, was focused on inoculating health care professionals, public safety workers, those involved with COVID-19 response as well as residents and staff of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

After vaccinating Mainers age 70 or older, Phase 1B will expand to include those between the ages of 65 and 69 as well as adults of all ages who have chronic medical conditions that put them at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Front-line essential workers will also be included in a later stage of Phase 1B as well as Phase 1C, although Maine CDC has yet to decide which workers should get top priority.

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