Maine’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 is well underway, although at a slower-than-desired pace because of limited supplies of vaccines. Demand is so high even within the small subset of Maine’s population eligible for vaccination – those 70 or older – that most are still waiting on appointments.

Here are answers to some of the many questions about the state vaccination program. Have others? Email them to [email protected].

I’m over age 70 and successfully registered for a vaccine with MaineHealth. That was weeks ago, though, and I haven’t heard anything. What do I do?

Unfortunately, you have to continue waiting. And it’s unclear for how long.

Because of extremely limited vaccine supplies, MaineHealth is only scheduling vaccination appointments one week in advance based on how many doses it expects to receive from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. MaineHealth officials declined to provide an estimated wait time Wednesday for appointments for eligible Mainers who have registered because of future supply uncertainties.

“Because the vaccine supply is so low and unpredictable, and the … number of people who are signing up, we are unable to provide estimates at this point,” MaineHealth spokesman John Porter said.

This week, MaineHealth was slated to receive roughly 5,300 initial doses of vaccine spread among its hospitals in Portland, Brunswick, Biddeford, Franklin, Damariscotta and Rockland. And a portion of those shots was bound for the Scarborough Downs mass-vaccination site that opened Wednesday and could eventually vaccinate up to 2,000 people a day – but only when they have the doses on hand.

As of Wednesday, 65,000 people who are currently eligible for vaccination had preregistered with MaineHealth, with more registering every day. And while the majority of shots are being given to Mainers 70 or older as part of Phase 1B, there are still some health care professionals, public safety employees or COVID-19 response workers within Phase 1A being vaccinated.

“If the federal government suddenly gives us a lot more vaccine, then the wait time will get shorter,” Porter said.

What happens if I miss my appointment call? Will I lose my spot in line?

MaineHealth will “try several times within the next few days” to reach a person who was not available when called about an available vaccination appointment, according to a frequently-asked-questions feature on the company’s website. After three failed attempts, the  system will “leave a message with instructions on how to connect directly with our appointment scheduling team.”

Appointment calls from MaineHealth will come from 877-780-7545, so keep that in mind if you don’t answer calls from unknown numbers or if you have a system that attempts to block spam calls.

Individuals who miss an appointment call don’t necessarily need to wait next to the phone for the next call to come in, however.

They can call that MaineHealth number – 877-780-7545 – and if the system recognizes the caller’s number as belonging to someone who is due to get an appointment, the call will be automatically directed to a scheduler. But callers have to use the same number in the registration system and must not “block” their number from showing up on caller ID.

That process will only work for individuals who are currently eligible for appointments. Other calls will go straight to the registration system.

I registered with MaineHealth but still want to confirm that I’m “on the list.” Is there a way to do that?

There is no number to call to confirm you are on “the list,” at this point.

However, MaineHealth has started making automated “courtesy calls” to everyone who has registered to assure them that they are still in the queue for a vaccine and will be contacted again once appointments are available. The automated message also tells the receiver that there is no need for them to take other actions.

These courtesy calls began Wednesday and will be done periodically, Porter said. So if you get a call from MaineHealth, it could be to set up an appointment — or it could be a call just to let you know that your name is still somewhere on the list.

Why doesn’t Maine have a centralized, statewide system allowing people to both register and schedule vaccination appointments, like other states do? And is one coming?

Maine and about 40 other states opted not to use a new system launched by the federal government because it didn’t offer a one-stop-shop solution for registering, scheduling and tracking vaccinations across the state. Other states have launched their own systems, but Maine (which has the nation’s oldest population and spotty, at best, internet access in many areas) has yet to do so.

As a result, each hospital network or health care system in Maine is using different systems that do not necessarily communicate with each other.

The Maine CDC is working on a statewide, online registration system as well as a centralized call center for those without computer access or who need assistance registering and making appointments. But it won’t be available for several more weeks, or perhaps a month.

“Across Maine CDC, this is probably the top priority of our entire team. This is an all-gas, no-brakes situation or solution that we need to have ready to go,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said during his briefing Tuesday.

I would prefer to be vaccinated by my personal doctor but they are a small, independent practice. When will doctor’s offices not affiliated with a hospital or health care network start receiving vaccine doses to administer?

This is a topic of ongoing discussion at the state level. But at this point, it’s still some time away.

Asked about it during his briefing Tuesday, Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine CDC said the priority now is vaccinating as many people as possible each week without having any doses left over at the end of a clinic. Batches of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage, contain more than 900 doses each while the Moderna batches have about 100 doses each but each vial (containing 10 doses) must be used within six hours to avoid being spoiled.

The Maine CDC has given most of those doses, so far, to hospitals and health care networks able to achieve that “high throughput.”

“Independent medical practices can play a role there,” Shah said. “But if we get an extra 500 doses into the state, we’ve got a choice to make. Right now our focus has been to give those doses to places that we know, without a shadow of a doubt, can achieve that high throughput. When we have a much higher supply of vaccine, we look forward to being able to furnish them to independent medical practices. But right now, we don’t know when that will be.”

This is a source of frustration for some primary care physicians and private practitioners who insist they have the staff and resources to quickly identify eligible patients, schedule and administer vaccinations. The Maine Medical Association also has discussed smaller practices working together to stage joint vaccination clinics able to draw larger numbers of patients.

What is the latest anticipated timeline for vaccinations in Maine?

The phases listed below can (and will) change, depending on dose deliveries from the federal government and how efficiently the state’s vaccination campaign is operating. But here are the latest estimates:

• Phase 1A (medical professionals, public safety workers, COVID-19 response personnel, long-term care homes): started in December and is wrapping up as of early February
• Phase 1B (Mainers 70 and older, followed by adults with high-risk medical conditions, 65- to 69-year-olds and some essential workers): started in late-January and is expected to continue through April.
• Phase 1C (other critical workers not included in Phase 1B): May and June
• Phase 2 (everyone else age 16 and older): June and into summer

Where is Maine in the vaccination rollout?

Phase 1A is winding down and vaccinations of Mainers 70 or older is underway as part of Phase 1B. Maine’s 70-and-older population segment, alone, accounts for more than 190,000 residents and the state is getting only about 20,000 new initial doses of vaccine per week from the federal government.

Vaccinations of people with high-risk medical conditions, as well as Mainers 65 to 69 will likely begin later this winter or early this spring (again, depending on vaccine supplies) after significant progress has been made with the 70-plus crowd. Then, some “essential front-line workers” will become eligible.

Which “essential” workers can get vaccinated first?

The Maine CDC and the Mills administration have yet to make that call because they are focused on the 190,000-plus residents 70 or older. Federal guidelines have identified teachers, daycare workers, grocery store employees, postal workers, public transit employees, and people involved with agricultural/food production as essential workers, but states have broad discretion to prioritize vaccinations.

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