From left, Brie Colville, a pharmacist, Nick Bloom and Hollie Maloney, both certified pharmacy technicians, prep syringes of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine before the doors open on the first day of the Northern Light Mercy Hospital mass vaccination clinic at the Portland Expo on Tuesday. Maloney said they were prepping around 500 doses for the day. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Hannaford Supermarkets on Tuesday became the latest retailer to offer COVID-19 vaccines, with the grocery store chain’s pharmacies opening up shots for those eligible at 35 locations across Maine.

Hannaford will have 3,500 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine available at more than half of its Maine’s stores this week, with more doses expected in the coming weeks. Additionally, another mass vaccination site – at the Auburn Mall – is slated to open on March 17. That site, the first in hard-hit Androscoggin County, will be operated by Central Maine Healthcare and have a capacity of 1,000 patients per day when supplies allow.

Maine already received more doses than ever this week, and production is accelerating even more. Late Tuesday afternoon, President Biden announced that the he expects the United States to produce enough COVID-19 vaccine for all adult Americans by the end of May, which would be roughly two months earlier than anticipated.

Still, as vaccination options increase, state health officials are closely watching new COVID-19 cases, which after weeks of steady decline could be leveling off or even increasing. There were 182 new cases on Tuesday, raising the seven-day average to 173 cases. That’s up from 118 cases on average on Feb. 22, although daily case counts are still far lower than the more than 600 cases per day, on a seven-day average, that Maine was experiencing in mid-January.

But the state’s testing positivity rate also has increased slightly over the last week, something that Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said he is watching closely.

“While we are not seeing the multiple hundreds of cases we saw six, seven or eight weeks ago, we are not seeing a continuation of that reduction (from the mid-January peak),” Shah said Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 44,944 positive cases of COVID-19, and 703 deaths. Current hospitalizations in Maine stood at 69 on Tuesday, an increased of seven over the previous day, with 25 in critical care.

As more vaccine shipments come in and the state immunization program balloons, Maine has steadily been expanding the number of places where people can get COVID-19 shots.

The addition of Hannaford sites and the Auburn Mall come on the same day two new mass vaccination sites opened – at the Portland Expo, operated by Northern Light Health, and at the former Marshalls store in Sanford, run by MaineHealth. People 60 and older are eligible for vaccination as of Wednesday and can make an appointment at Hannaford by going to hannaford.com/pharmacy/covid-19-vaccine. Some of the locations offering the vaccine include Westbrook, South Portland’s Millcreek location, Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Saco and York, among many other Hannaford stores.

“As more vaccine becomes available, we’ll be opening up more vaccine appointments and extending to additional pharmacies,” said Wendy Boynton, director of pharmacy services at Hannaford.

Hannaford joins more than 70 Walmart, Sam’s Club and Walgreens pharmacies as Maine’s retail partners in a federal program that distributes COVID-19 vaccines directly to pharmacies. A list of Maine’s vaccinations sites can be found online at: maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites.

The mass vaccination sites that previously opened include Scarborough Downs and the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Last week, Gov. Janet Mills unveiled a new age-based system for the vaccination program, with people 60 and older becoming eligible on Wednesday, followed by those 50 and older on April 1, 40 and older on May 1, 30 and older June 1 and 16-29 starting in July. The timeline may accelerate if vaccine supplies become more plentiful.

The previous plan prioritized those with high-risk health conditions, but was scrapped in favor of an age-based plan. Mills and Shah defended the move, arguing age is the biggest risk factor for COVID-19.

While some supported the decision, others have been critical. Mills has faced criticism from individuals with high-risk medical conditions, and the head of the Maine Education Association, the teachers union, is now urging Gov. Janet Mills to reconsider the decision to have a strictly an age-based vaccination program moving forward.

Grace Leavitt, president of the MEA, had last week expressed support for the plan, but said in a letter to Mills on Monday that “many of our educators are extremely distraught and angry that all educators aren’t prioritized to receive vaccinations now.”

Leavitt also encouraged Mills to prioritize school staff with high-risk medical conditions and staff who work with special education students. The Mills plan will have dedicated clinics for school staff but those will still be age-based, so in March only teachers 60 and over will receive the vaccine.

The point could become moot because Biden on Tuesday said he was ordering states to prioritize teachers.

Regardless of prioritization issues, a record number of doses is arriving in Maine this week. The two new mass sites open as Maine’s immunization program ramps up, with more than 55,000 doses expected to be shipped to the state this week, including 15,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Overall, Maine has given 355,810 doses, including 231,353 first doses, representing 17.21 percent of the population.

Shah has said that if Maine can regularly receive about 50,000 doses per week, it will no longer be constrained by supplies to vaccinate the population. Shah said he doesn’t know yet what supplies will be like for next week, but there may be a reduction in the Johnson & Johnson shipments for a week or two before ramping back up again. Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are expected to continue to accelerate the pace of vaccine shipments to states in the coming weeks, according to national news reports.

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