Bertie Holmes, left gets her second COVID-19 shot administered by registered nurse Mary Dowe during a vaccine clinic held at The Highlands in Topsham Monday. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

BATH — Several senior living facilities in the southern Midcoast reported all their residents have been fully vaccinated — or will be in the coming days — but many staff members are shying away from the needle.

Steve Schuchert, administrator of Hillhouse Assisted Living in Bath, said all of the facility’s 40 residents had received their second vaccination as of Wednesday, but 30% of his roughly 95 staff members declined the vaccination.

“You can’t force or convince people to get vaccinated, all we can do is provide them with the facts,” said Schuchert. “People have concerns about the side effects and everything that has been on social media.”

Debunked or unproven claims that the vaccines are toxic, ineffective or cause autism have swirled on social media, but, Robert Long, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman, states the vaccines are effective and have been thoroughly tested.

“Clinical trials of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed them to be effective about 95% of the time,” Long wrote in an email. “The FDA reviewed data from those trials before approving each vaccine. Maine has administered more than 275,000 doses with few adverse reactions.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization, which both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines received, states people have the option to refuse the vaccine.

For his residents, Schuchert said receiving the vaccine was “the first time in a year we’ve been able to breathe a little easier.”

Like Schuchert, Liz Wyman, director of the Plant Memorial Home, an assisted living facility in Bath, said all 20 of their residents choose to receive the vaccine, which she sees as “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wyman anticipates the last few residents will receive their second dose on Feb. 26. However, only 17 of 26 staff members chose to receive the immunization, she said.

“I think the biggest reason is people were unsure of it and are feeling like it hasn’t been tested thoroughly enough,” said Wyman. “I have a few people that are holding out because they want a one-dose shot instead of the two-dose shot.”

At the Thornton Oaks Retirement Community in Brunswick, Executive Director Don Kinsley declined to say how many of his 30 staff members have chosen to get inoculated, but said “the percentage of staff who have received the vaccine is quite high.”

Kinsley said the few staff members who declined the vaccine do so because “they are waiting to see how others do with the vaccine.”  

Meanwhile, Kinsley said all 130 of his residents will be fully vaccinated on March 3.

“One hundred percent of our residents have either gotten their first and second vaccine or have their first and are waiting on their second,” he said. “We’re tickled to death that all our residents are getting the vaccine.”

Chelsie Mitchell, director of the Highlands, a senior living facility in Topsham, said 94% of her 415 residents accepted the vaccine and were fully vaccinated last week. Mitchell said residents who declined the vaccine did so for medical reasons.

“The vaccine goes in the arm and we have some people who can only get shots in their hips,” said Mitchell. “We also have some with a history of allergic reactions from vaccines.”

Regardless of whether they accept the vaccine, the state has enough vaccine doses to offer it to staff at Maine’s skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, according to Long.

“The Retail Pharmacy Program, a collaboration between U.S. CDC and pharmacies to vaccinate residents and staff at skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, has informed the Maine Immunization Program that staff and residents at all Maine skilled nursing and assisted living communities that are participating in the program have been offered a first dose,” Long wrote.

Within Sagadahoc County, health officials have administered 9,166 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 8.26% of the county’s population has received the second dose as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC. Nearly 7,500 people ages 70-79 have received the first dose and 824 have received the second dose.

According to the Maine CDC, 199,360 Mainers had received a first dose of the vaccine as of Sunday, while 94,767 have received two doses.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has declined over the past few weeks. On Sunday, the state’s seven-day average of daily reported cases was 140 new cases compared to 562 new cases on Jan.19.

Since March, Sagadahoc County has seen 826 COVID-19 cases and one death as of Friday, the Maine CDC reported.

Statewide, 43,497 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 658 have died as of Sunday.

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