State health officials said Friday that weather-related shipping delays of COVID-19 vaccines have not caused major disruptions at Maine clinics, although some Walmart pharmacies may be impacted.

Older Mainers, meanwhile, could soon have another option for vaccinations as the pharmacy giant Walgreens prepares to begin offering shots to eligible individuals in Maine and other states.

Members of the White House’s COVID-19 response team said shipments of an estimated 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were delayed because of this week’s widespread winter weather. Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said the backlog affected all 50 states and recommended states prepare for larger-than-planned deliveries as shippers play catch-up over the next week.

“We know many Americans are awaiting their second dose and many more their first dose,” Slavitt said during a Friday briefing. “We are asking vaccine administration sites to extend their hours even further and offer additional appointments and to try to reschedule their vaccinations over the coming days and weeks as significantly more supply arrives. States and vaccine sites are going to want to be prepared for the additional volume.”

But a spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said only a small number of second doses bound for Maine were delayed.

“Anticipating the storm, the Maine Immunization Program arranged to have all of this week’s first doses delivered by Monday to ensure that scheduled vaccinations would not be disrupted,” Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long wrote in an email. “We were later notified that delivery of a small number of second doses would be delayed at the end of this week. We have adjusted for the delay in the arrival of those second doses, and have worked with Maine vaccinators to ensure that clinics this weekend and early next week can happen as scheduled.”

Maine’s share of vaccine doses was slated to increase by roughly 14 percent next week. More than 190,000 individuals – or 14.4 percent of Maine’s population – had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Friday morning, according to the Maine CDC.

The nationwide shipping disruptions could affect vaccination clinics at Walmart pharmacies in Maine, however.

Long said a Walmart representative contacted the Maine CDC on Friday “to say it’s possible that delivery of some of the doses allocated to their stores in Maine could be delayed because of storm-related complications.”

Representatives from Walmart’s corporate office did not immediately respond to questions about potential delays or canceled appointments. The company began offering vaccinations by appointment last week to Mainers age 70 or older at 22 Walmart and two Sam’s Club locations around the state.

Northern Light Health, which operates vaccination clinics throughout Maine as well as a high-volume site at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, has experienced delayed deliveries of vaccines because of the winter storms. But a Northern Light spokesman said the delays have not forced any cancellations because the health care network only offers appointments for vaccines that are already on hand.

“Because we take this approach, nobody who has signed up for an appointment has been or will be affected,” said spokesman Andy Soucier. “We don’t expect the minor delays in vaccine shipment to affect the number of people we’re able to vaccinate in any significant way.”

PHARMACY PROGRAM EXPANDING

Many Maine residents could soon have another local option – Walgreens pharmacies – for vaccination.

In a presentation Thursday to members of the state’s Vaccine Planning Group, officials with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the state chose Walgreens as the next partner under the federally run Retail Pharmacy Program. Walgreens would join Walmart in a program that could eventually also extend to CVS, Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarket pharmacies in Maine.

In a statement Friday evening, a Walgreens representative said the chain’s pharmacies in Maine will start receiving vaccine doses starting on February 25 as part of the federal partnership with pharmacies nationwide. Walgreens locations in Maine are slated to receive 4,680 doses initially, although it was unclear how they would be divided among the chain’s stores.

This week, the Biden administration announced plans to double the number of vaccine doses allocated to participating pharmacy chains from 1 million to 2 million. Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in Maine are expected to receive 4,300 doses from the federal government next week.

According to a representative for Walgreens, Maine residents will be able to schedule both vaccine appointments at the same time starting next week at the company’s online appointment scheduler: Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine.

DECLINING CASES

With the prospect of even larger allocations of doses next week, Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is expanding as the state seeks to inoculate residents age 70 and older. The vaccination push comes at a time when Maine and most other states are seeing dramatically lower rates of new infections but also tracking the spread of more transmissible variants of the coronavirus.

Maine CDC reported 134 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday along with one additional death, identified as a man in his 70s from Washington County.

While the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the past week has varied, ranging from a high of 218 on Thursday to a low of 91 on Tuesday, the seven-day average continues to show an overall decline in new detected infections. The rolling, seven-day average stood at 141 on Friday, compared to 208 a week earlier and a record high of 625 for the week ending on Jan. 15.

To date, Maine CDC has tracked 43,224 confirmed or probable cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus and at least 656 individuals in Maine have died after contracting COVID-19 since March. Maine has the nation’s third-lowest infection rate – of 3,206 cases per 100,000 residents – and the fourth-lowest death rate among the states, according to tracking by The New York Times.

Hospitalization rates also continue to decline statewide following a post-holiday surge that drove them up to their highest levels in Maine since the pandemic began last March. As of Friday, 87 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, with 29 of those individuals being treated in critical care units and seven connected to ventilators.

VACCINATIONS EXPANDING

Maine’s vaccination campaign continues to target residents age 70 or older, and the pace of that effort is expected to quicken next week thanks to a roughly 14 percent increase in dose shipments from the federal government.

As of Friday morning, health care providers had administered a total of 278,806 doses of vaccine since mid-December. That figure includes 193,284 initial doses and 85,522 second or final doses.

Maine is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccination plan focused on individuals 70 and older, and is expected to begin offering vaccines to 65- to 69-year-olds next month. So far, 50 percent of Maine’s 193,000 residents 70 or older have gotten at least one shot and 10 percent have gotten both. There are an additional 92,000 people in the 65-69 age range.

On Thursday, the Maine CDC announced that the agency expected to receive 27,740 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines next week, representing a numerical increase of 5,265 doses over this week. The actual number of additional doses is 3,510, however, because the federal government is changing its accounting method for the Pfizer vaccine, which has consistently arrived in vials containing six doses rather than the five doses represented in earlier counts.

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