All Mainers 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Wednesday — good news for everyone waiting for the shot that will reopen their world.

But the speed with which Maine’s vaccination program has been opened up is also concerning. Last week’s announcement was made possible not only by the rapid increase in vaccine availability, but also by increasing number of appointments being left at Maine clinics.

Those open slots show that demand for the highly effective vaccines is beginning to wane among the populations already eligible, at least in some areas of the state — a troubling sign this early in the process.

With case numbers on the rise, we are clearly in a race against time.

First, the good news. Since the first vaccinations were given in mid December, as of Friday, more than 435,000 Mainers had gotten their first shot, about 32% of the entire population. More than 20% had gotten their final dose.

But many groups eligible so far have fallen short of proportion necessary to reach herd immunity — when so many people are protected, the disease has nowhere to go, somewhere from 70% to 90% of the whole population. Hesitancy at that rate will make it difficult for Maine to hit herd immunity, especially when the entire population under 16 won’t be eligible for vaccination for a while.


As of mid March, the Press Herald reported, just 54% of eligible Department of Corrections staff had been vaccinated, and just 61% of Department of Public Safety staff. Hospitals and nursing homes, too, were having trouble convincing staff to get the shot.

Those are all workers who have seen the danger of the virus up close. It is worrisome that so many would choose to not protect themselves and others around them, and it likely reflects skepticism in the community as a whole.

But we shouldn’t put all of that skepticism in the same box. There is clearly some virulent anti-vaccination in Maine, based on years of false information. But that is the minority.

Most people wary of the COVID vaccines worry about the speed with which it was created, and the fact that it is new. The politicization of public health over the last year hasn’t helped either.

For the sake of everyone’s health and well-being, those folks have to be reached. Shame and harassment do not work; building trust does. Experts suggest walk-in clinics where people can show up with appointments and ask questions may push over some people on the fence, as can the use of trustworthy local organizations — as our colleague Bill Nemitz reported, firefighters are giving shots on weekends in Buxton.

It’s time consuming, but going door-to-door for conversations about vaccine safety and health are also promising.


And there is more at play here than vaccine hesitancy. With some people access is a problem — Maine’s vaccine program needs to reach everyone where they are.

To that end, the state announced last week that pharmacy chains will have more doses and may be setting up pop-up clinics. Another mass vaccination site for the Lewiston area is in the works, adding to the others across the state. More doses are going to independent pharmacies, physicians, paramedics and community health clinics, reaching corners of the state and residents that had not been reached before.

Every adult who wants a shot will be soon be able to get one. Now we need to make sure they feel comfortable doing so.

With the appearance of more highly transmissible variants, and pandemic fatigue setting in, the race is on.

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