More than 50 percent of Maine’s eligible population has now received the doses needed for full vaccination against COVID-19, state officials announced Friday.

Maine appears to be one of the first states, if not the first, to surpass that milestone but still remains far from levels needed to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, particularly among younger residents.

As of Thursday night, 50.3 percent of Mainers 16 or older had received either both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their last shot.

“We’ve put over 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of Maine people, a remarkable achievement made possible through our collaboration with health care providers, volunteers, and countless others throughout the state,” Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “But now it is time to work harder to vaccinate more people to save lives and protect our communities ahead of the summer season.”

But new case numbers as well as hospitalizations remain stubbornly high, and vaccine providers are shifting their strategies to target the large segment of the under-30 population that has yet to receive a shot. On Friday, MaineHealth announced one of its mass-vaccination clinics will close and school-based clinics will begin later this month if the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 12- to 15-year-olds.

CASES, HOSPITALIZATIONS STILL HIGH

The Maine CDC reported 288 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Friday. Maine’s seven-day average of new cases stood at 328 compared with a rolling average of 297 on May 1 and more than double the low of roughly 140 reported in mid-February.

The additional death reported Friday – described as a man in his 60s from Washington County – increased Maine’s COVID-related death toll to 794 since the first coronavirus case was detected in the state in March 2020. To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 63,463 confirmed or probable cases of the viral disease.

Hospital officials, meanwhile, are reporting that the number of people requiring intensive care is approaching the level seen during the height of the winter surge. More than one-third of the 127 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 on Friday were in critical care units, with 26 individuals also connected to ventilators.

Unvaccinated people under 40 accounted for 64 percent of new cases during the past week. And Androscoggin County continues to be a hotspot, with a case rate of 77 infections for every 10,000 residents that is more than double the statewide average. Androscoggin County had the 14th-highest case rate of any county in the nation over the past week, according to tracking by The New York Times.

In light of Androscoggin’s higher rate, the Maine Department of Education continued classifying the county as “yellow” in the agency’s color-coded system risk system. A yellow designation means that schools should consider hybrid instruction or take other precautions to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at one time.

All other counties were designated as “green,” including Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties, which were yellow two weeks ago but were reclassified as green this week because of falling infection rates.

In higher education, meanwhile, administrators at the University of Maine System are watching closely whether the Food and Drug Administration grants Pfizer full approval for its vaccine. All three of the vaccines in use in the U.S. are operating under “emergency use authorizations.”

Chancellor Dannel Malloy of the University of Maine System indicated that the system would likely require all students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to campus this fall if the FDA grants Pfizer full approval, according to News Center Maine. Bowdoin College and the University of New England, along with a growing list of institutions nationwide, already have mandated vaccination for on-campus learning.

“I think people are entitled to know that it has been fully tested and vetted before we as a state system would require it,” Malloy said, according to News Center Maine. “But once it is vetted and full approval is given, just as we require other vaccines, there’s a very high likelihood, if not an expectation, that we would look at requiring this one for anyone who wanted to visit our campus, be on our campus, live on our campus.”

NATION’S HIGHEST VACCINATION RATE

The state continues to make more progress than most states in getting vaccine doses out to the population.

On the vaccination front, Maine has administered at least one dose to 48.4 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents and final doses to 42.1 percent of the population. Those figures rise to 57.8 percent and 50.3 percent, respectively, among the roughly 1.1 million people who are currently eligible for vaccination in Maine because they are 16 or older.

The New England states continue to vaccinate residents faster than the rest of the country, although that pace has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

Maine had the highest full vaccination rate in the country on Friday – roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average – and ranked fifth in terms of the percent of the population that has received at least one dose, according to tracking by Bloomberg. The four states ahead of Maine in first-dose administration were New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Maine is one of the first states in the country to surpass the 50 percent threshold for fully vaccinating eligible individuals, although differences in reporting make exact comparisons challenging. While the Maine CDC reports vaccination rates among the entire population and among those 16 and older, the U.S. CDC and many states report shots administered to those 18 or older. According to the federal CDC, Maine’s full-vaccination rate of 53.3 percent among individuals 18 or older was the highest in the nation.

“I am proud to report that more than half of Maine people have received their final dose of a vaccine – but there is more work to do to get this pandemic behind us,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “We will continue our efforts to expand access to the vaccine, to get into hard-to-reach communities and to deliver shots into arms. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated so that we can defeat this virus and its variants and get back to normal as soon as possible.”

OPTIONS EXPANDING

Vaccination clinics are offering more walk-in opportunities as well as evening and weekend hours in an effort to draw more people.

For instance, a mobile clinic launched Friday in downtown Lewiston in the municipal parking lot at One Oak Street as part of an effort to increase access to vaccine in a county with Maine’s highest per capita infection rate.

The Lewiston clinic, which is located in the city’s municipal parking lot at One Oak Street, will offer walk-in vaccinations on the following dates: May 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; May 11 from 1-7 p.m.; May 12 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; May 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and May 14 from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. The clinic is a partnership between the state, Promerica Health and the city.

The mass vaccination site at the Auburn Mall also will begin allowing walk-in vaccinations on Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Portland Public Health also will begin offering vaccinations with the single-dose J&J vaccine next week at the city’s India Street Health Center, located at 103 India St. Vaccinations will be available to the public as well as to clients of the India Street clinic. Appointments are preferred, and individuals interested in scheduling an appointment or getting more information should call the Portland Community Free Clinic at 207-874-8982.

Elsewhere in southern Maine, Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland is offering walk-in vaccinations at the Northern Light Pharmacy on the Fore River campus from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Starting next week, Northern Light Health’s clinic at the Portland Expo will transition to offering only walk-in vaccinations on Wednesdays and Fridays.

MaineHealth announced plans Friday to phase out the mass-vaccination clinic at Scarborough Downs by May 20 in response to the shifting nature of the demand for vaccine doses. However, MaineHealth will offer walk-in vaccinations with the single-dose J&J vaccine next Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as between May 17 and May 20 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free in the U.S., regardless of whether the person has health insurance. For a list of vaccination clinics and contact information for those sites around the state, go to maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites or call the state’s Community Vaccination Line at 888-445-4111.

APPOINTMENTS STILL POPULAR

While many clinics are now offering walk-in vaccinations, data from several providers show that appointments are still popular.

Northern Light Health had more than 6,900 vaccinations scheduled between April 28 and May 7 and fewer than 700 walk-ins during that period. But the opposite trend was playing out at MaineHealth’s mass-vaccination clinic at Scarborough Downs, where providers administered 571 doses to walk-in patients but only 161 to scheduled patients from Monday to Thursday.

At the mobile unit operated in Turner by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 27 of the 163 shots administered Friday went to walk-in patients. The mobile unit is now relocating to Waterville’s Lafleur Airport, where it will offer appointments and walk-in vaccinations from Sunday through Wednesday.

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