AUGUSTA — Donna Kenney, one of about 180 people to get their COVID-19 vaccination shot from Augusta firefighters Saturday, didn’t hesitate when asked what she is most looking forward to doing once the vaccination takes effect.

“I can’t wait to get out and visit, I’d like to be with my family again,” the Augusta resident said during a post-shot observation period to ensure she didn’t suffer any ill effects. “It has been heartbreaking. I’m going to celebrate after this.”

Same, too, for Susan Feather of Belgrade, who very much looks forward to hanging out with her adult children and her grandson up close, “without having to be across the driveway from each other.”

Deputy Fire Chief Steve Leach, who is overseeing vaccinations for the city, said the department’s 180 available doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine were spoken for within the first two days people could register for Saturday’s clinic at Cony High School. It was the department’s first vaccination clinic for the public.

“The phone number we set up (620-8164) had 14 lines on it, they were swamped, it was crazy,” Leach said.

Things were decidedly low-key Saturday, with area residents coming in at their appointed time to check in, answer a few questions, get their shot and then go on their way after waiting between 15 and 30 minutes to make sure they didn’t have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Participants said the process was quick and went smoothly.

Residents interviewed at the clinic Saturday all said they preferred to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in large part because only one dose is required, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two. It is most effective after about two weeks, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“I’d rather have one shot than two,” said Janice Bunnell of Augusta. “I’m so glad to have this behind me. Now maybe I can get out of the house again.”

Bunnell said one thing she’s looking forward to is grocery shopping for herself, instead of having her daughter do it for her. She said she just prefers to pick out her own apples, and that just-right piece of fish, because she knows what she wants.

While Feather said the shot didn’t hurt at all, Bunnell said it hurt a bit, but no more so than a flu shot.

“In my age category, I’d rather have an achy arm for a couple of days than have COVID,” Bunnell said.

Under current state guidelines, anyone 60 or older is now eligible to receive the vaccine. State officials announced Friday  that people 50 and older may receive doses starting Tuesday, anticipating increased federal shipments of COVID-19 vaccines. Previously the schedule called for people in their 50s to be eligible starting April 1.

The Fire Department plans to have additional public vaccination clinics on other Saturdays also at Cony High School. But not this week. Leach said they weren’t able to secure any more vaccine this week, so there will be no clinic Saturday, March 27. He hopes they’ll get more vaccine the following week and be able to have another clinic then. He advised area residents looking to get their shot to keep an eye on the Augusta Fire Department’s Facebook page, or the city’s website, for information on when the next clinic will be, and when registrations will again be taken at https://app.blockitnow.com/consumer/maine-ems.

Leach said the department is not yet sure which vaccines it will get for future clinics, the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna.

The clinic at Cony High School was separate from ongoing vaccination efforts at a clinic being run by MaineGeneral Health at the Augusta Civic Center, which opened Feb. 17. Some patients getting their vaccine Saturday said they’d signed up to get shots at the civic center site, as long as three weeks ago, but hadn’t heard back. So when they heard about the additional clinic at Cony, they signed up and got their shots.

Leach said while there was no cost to individuals to receive the shot, patients who have insurance should bring their insurance card so the city can be reimbursed for the cost of the vaccination. Federal funds are expected to cover the cost of the vaccine for those without insurance.

Firefighter/EMT John Robertson, sitting behind what would normally be the concession stand counter at Cony, carefully doled out vaccine from small bottles into syringes to be administered by one of the other 8 or so firefighters working at the clinic Saturday.

“I try to get every drop I can out,” Robertson said.

Bob Kelley of West Gardiner, like many other patients at the clinic, said he plans to continue wearing a mask even though he has been vaccinated.

“I’m still going to be safe and do what you’re supposed to do and stay covered, as much as I hate to do it,” he said. “I just think we need a few more months of mask wearing.”

Firefighter Tim Pomelow, who injected the vaccine into patients Saturday, greeted them, asked a few questions and, within a few minutes, had given them their shot and sent them on their way.

At least a couple of patients who could not make it into the school were given their shots outside in cars.

Most patients were asked to wait 15 minutes while those who have had an allergic reaction to previous medications waited 30 minutes after the shots, just to be sure they didn’t have a reaction to the vaccine.

As of Friday, there had been 48,292 COVID-19 cases in Maine, and 728 deaths attributed to it, with 220 new cases, and no deaths, reported Saturday by the Maine Center for Disease Control. Kennebec County has had 4,073 cases, and 53 deaths.

As of March 20, 359,548 Maine residents, or 26.75 %, had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 215,408, or 16.02 %, had received their final dose, according to Maine CDC statistics.

Augusta firefighters had already, since late December, been doing clinics vaccinating area public safety workers at the department’s Hartford Fire Station, where more than 1,000 first doses and 500 second doses have been given to public safety workers from southern Kennebec County. About 20 firefighters are involved in giving the vaccines, which they are not allowed to do as part of their regular working shifts. The firefighters work overtime to administer the shots, most of the cost of which, Leach anticipates, will be reimbursed with emergency management funds.

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