Dr. Heidi Wierman demonstrates how to administer the vaccine at the Scarborough Downs clinic on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Maine expects to begin vaccinating those between 65 and 69 by the first week in March, having by that time immunized two-thirds of the 70-and-older population, Gov. Janet Mills and other officials said Thursday.

There will be some overlap, and for at least a few weeks both groups will be getting shots, just as the 70-and-older age group started receiving vaccinations on Jan. 18 while the state was still immunizing front-line health care workers and nursing home residents.

“By the time we get to that first week in March we hope to begin vaccinating that 65-and-older population,” Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, said during a media briefing Thursday.

Maine reported 301 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and three additional deaths. Currently, 145 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in Maine, with 46 in intensive care.

Pressed by reporters on when teachers would be vaccinated, Mills said that no decisions have been made on when teachers will start getting their shots. The governor said “teachers are highly valued,” but she offered no specifics on where teachers would stand among front-line essential workers. There is a national push to prioritize teachers for vaccination to keep them safe and to give schools a chance to open more fully sooner.

“We hope every kid gets a chance to be back in the classroom as soon as possible,” Mills said.

Most school districts are operating under a hybrid model, where students attend school in-person for part of the week and then learn remotely the other part of the week.

Teachers are part of the essential workers in Phase 1B, and while essential workers could include postal workers, grocery store clerks, teachers and others, the state has yet to say which groups would be at the front of the line in Phase 1B, or when Phase 1B would begin for essential workers. Phase 1B also includes seniors 65 and older, but so far the only group in Phase 1B that the state has started to immunize are those 70 and older, which includes about 193,000 people.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 40,534 positive cases of COVID-19, and 630 deaths.

Case counts are continuing their lower trajectory compared to mid-January as the state vaccination program rolls out. The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 297.1 on Thursday, compared to 402.3 a week ago and 521.3 a month ago. The seven-day averages are now similar to early December.

Maine has administered 167,111 doses of vaccine, including 123,683 first doses and 43,428 second doses. As of Thursday, 9.2 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million population had received at least their first dose. Maine is the 10th-best state when measuring how quickly doses are given, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker. Alaska is tops in the country at 17.76 doses given per 100 people through Wednesday, while Maine was at 12.03 doses per 100 people. The national average was 10.7 doses per 100.

However, the supply of vaccines coming from the federal government continues to be a concern.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday that supply is currently the biggest roadblock in the state’s ability to immunize enough residents to reach herd immunity.

Herd immunity would be achieved when about 80 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people, or just over 1 million people, are fully vaccinated, enough to prevent the virus from circulating in the population. The Biden administration has increased shipments to states, but Maine is still only receiving about 21,000 doses per week.

Maine placed its order for next week, which includes 21,475 doses, a 5 percent increase – 1,100 doses – over the previous week. Of those, 12,700 will be Moderna doses, and 8,775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

For the fourth week in a row, Maine did not allocate any new doses to the retail pharmacy program operated by Walgreens and CVS, which help vaccinate long-term care facilities. Instead, 2,500 doses will be sent to independent pharmacies to run vaccination clinics at long-term care facilities. Walgreens and CVS are still immunizing long-term care facilities with doses they were previously allocated.

Shah has said he’s concerned about the slow progress of the retail pharmacy program, especially at Walgreens. Walgreens has completed 100 of 160 long-term care facilities on its list as of Tuesday, according to data from company’s website. Shah said on Thursday that details will be forthcoming, but he expects that a further expansion of the role of independent pharmacies will be announced soon.

The Scarborough Downs mass vaccination site opened Wednesday, with 115 appointments scheduled. The site, overseen by MaineHealth, will be open for the foreseeable future, every day except Sundays, and will ramp up to vaccinate about 1,500 to 2,000 per day, depending on supply.

Northern Light Health opened its mass vaccination site at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, and the former Marshall’s in Sanford is under consideration for a mass immunization clinic that would open later this month. Shah said he expects that mass vaccination clinics would open in the Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Augusta areas as vaccine supplies ramp up.

Without a statewide registration system, hospital and health care networks have each developed their own ways to schedule vaccination appointments for eligible individuals. The result is a hodgepodge of systems, many of which have been overwhelmed by the huge number of people attempting to secure a limited number of vaccines each week.

Roughly 65,000 vaccine-eligible people have preregistered with MaineHealth and are awaiting return calls to schedule an appointment when it is their turn. With people growing anxious after waiting weeks for those calls, MaineHealth began making automated “courtesy calls” on Wednesday to everyone who has registered to assure them that they are still in the system and will be contacted when an appointment is available for them.

Spokesman John Porter said Thursday that the automated courtesy calls will likely be done periodically.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

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