State health officials reported 420 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, continuing what is now a weeks-long climb of case numbers even as Mainers gain easier access to vaccines.

As expected, Maine surpassed the 1 millionth dose of vaccine administered on Monday and is approaching another milestone with nearly one-third of the population having received enough shots for full vaccination against COVID-19. But demand for appointments appears to be softening in parts of the state – a welcome shift for those still waiting for shots but one that could signal new challenges for public health officials striving for “herd immunity.”

“Maine started our vaccination journey from a lower relative number of cases, which puts us in a better position to halt the spread, even though it doesn’t seem like it right now, as well as achieve that higher level of immunity,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our goal is to get every single person in Maine who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated.”

With Tuesday’s 420 new cases, Maine’s seven-day, rolling average stood at 453. While that is lower than the seven-day average of 475 reported Monday, the average was 369 for the seven-day period ending on April 20 and was 200 four weeks ago.

Maine had the nation’s sixth-highest daily rate of new cases for the past week at 35 cases for every 100,000 residents, according to tracking by the Global Epidemics program at Brown University’s School of Public Health.

SOFTENING DEMAND FOR SHOTS?

Maine continues to see high numbers of new coronavirus infections even as the state’s vaccination campaign makes gradual progress.

As of Monday night, 42.7 percent of the state’s roughly 1.3 million residents had received at least one shot while 32.2 percent had received either both shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single-shot vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson. Those figures rise to 50.6 percent and 38.5 percent, respectively, among the 16-and-older population that is eligible for vaccination.

“That’s strong, resounding and remarkable progress,” Shah said during his Tuesday briefing. “We, of course, have more work to do, namely that other 50 percent of the state. But where we are right now puts on strong footing to continue our work on vaccines and vaccinations.”

Shah said the state has “built an architecture” that can accommodate even larger shipments of vaccine from the federal government. Maine’s allocation of doses actually declined this week, falling roughly 2,900 doses to 50,780 distributed to the Maine CDC, retail pharmacies and federally qualified health centers.

While Shah said the decline was “concerning,” it comes at a time when appointments are easier to come by in many parts of the state.

On Tuesday, for instance, Shah announced that a mobile clinic in Windham will offer walk-up vaccination on Wednesday and Thursday in addition to pre-scheduled appointments. The clinic, which is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is located at 795 Roosevelt Trail and will operate between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

Shah said those walk-up appointments will be first-come, first-served, however, and recommended people call 1-888-445-4111 to ensure they get a time slot.

Other vaccine providers were also reporting available capacity this week. While most of the time slots at Northern Light Health’s clinic at the Portland Expo were booked, there were significant numbers of appointments still available at Northern Light’s high-volume clinic at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“We are seeing some areas with open appointments and as always Northern Light Health reallocates to where the current need is,” said Dr. James Jarvis, the COVID-19 senior physician executive at the hospital network. “While we are delighted that half of eligible Mainers have had at least one dose, we need all eligible Mainers to get vaccinated. We ask unvaccinated Mainers to please look on the Northern Light Health or MeCDC website for a clinic near them.”

The state’s largest hospital and health care network, MaineHealth, was still making its way through a waitlist of people who had signed up for shots. But a spokesman for the network, which operates high-volume vaccination sites at Scarborough Downs and in Sanford as well as smaller clinics around the state, said they expect to have offered appointments to everyone on the list within a week or so.

“We anticipate that we will see the supply-demand ratio shift, and anticipating that we are looking at new options for getting in for an appointment,” said MaineHealth spokesman John Porter.

VARIANTS AND ‘BREAKTHROUGH’ CASES

Maine ranked second in the nation on Tuesday in terms of the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of vaccine and led the nation in the percent of people who had received full vaccination, according to tracking by Bloomberg News.

Yet as vaccinations of older adults increase, the age of new cases is also trending younger. Among the 420 new cases reported Tuesday, 25 percent were among individuals under age 20 while 19 percent were among people in their 20s.

Shah said he and team members at Maine CDC have been trying to reconcile that positive trend regarding vaccinations with the fact that Maine also has among the highest rates of new infections in the nation.

Nearly three-quarters of Mainers age 60 or older – an age group that account for the vast majority of Maine’s 767 deaths – had received their full regimen of vaccine doses as of Tuesday. Just 12 percent of residents under age 30 had received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

One potential reason, Shah said, is that older and younger Mainers have effectively been on somewhat separate tracks during the COVID-19 pandemic, with less interaction that could lead to transmission. Additionally, more transmissible variants are now spreading in Maine at a time when many younger individuals are socializing more, attending school or engaging in other activities together.

“If older Mainers are largely cordoned off, then the fact that they have been vaccinated doesn’t really help slow transmission among younger Mainers who are just now getting their vaccination numbers up,” Shah said. “So when you couple that phenomenon with variants that are more contagious, that is my hypothesis for why our case numbers are high, and may be staying high and maybe even going higher.”

To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 57,965 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since the coronavirus was first detected in the state in March 2020.

Maine has reported 107 so-called “breakthrough” cases of fully vaccinated individuals who subsequently contract COVID-19. But that represents just 0.02 percent of the nearly 433,000 people who have completed their vaccination shots in Maine to date, although not all of those are considered “fully vaccinated” because it takes two weeks after the final shot.

One of those 107 individuals died after contracting COVID-19. Shah said that person was already in hospice care at the time they were vaccinated but declined to go into more specifics for privacy reasons. Roughly 40 percent of the 107 individuals had symptoms of COVID-19 and eight were ultimately hospitalized.

Some observers noted that Maine CDC reported 420 cases on April 20, a date whose numerical abbreviation (4/20) has become a cultural reference to marijuana use. Spokespersons for the Maine CDC and Maine Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment on the apparent coincidence.

 

 

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