MaineHealth, one of the state’s largest health care providers, is opening COVID-19 vaccine registration to adolescents 12 to 15 in anticipation of federal approval next week for use of the Pfizer vaccine in younger people.

At the same time, MaineHealth is planning to phase out operations at its mass vaccination clinic at the former Scarborough Downs racetrack in Scarborough by May 20 and will shift that effort to its existing vaccination site in Westbrook. The change comes as much of the over-60 population in Maine is now vaccinated and younger adults are seeking more flexible options that fit their schedules.

“We’ve reached a point in the vaccination effort where we need to adjust to meet people where they are,” Dr. Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer at MaineHealth, said in a statement. “That means redeploying our resources to meet the needs of this younger population in different ways.”

On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they have submitted an application for full Federal Drug Administration approval of their vaccine for people 16 and older. The companies also are seeking to expand their current emergency use authorization to include people 12 to 15 and plan to submit a supplemental application for full approval later.

The approval of the vaccine for use in adolescents could come as early as next week. As a result, MaineHealth said it is opening up registrations for 12- to 15-year-olds and is working with school districts to set up vaccination clinics for students 12 and older.

Clinics for students 16 and older will take place Tuesday at Poland Regional High School and on Thursday at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. Both are in Oxford County, where the vaccination rate of 35 percent is among the lowest of Maine’s 16 counties.

MaineHealth also is working with other school districts to set up clinics at middle and high schools. “Our goal is to get into the schools soon enough so that we can schedule second doses for students ahead of the end of the school year,” Boomsma said.

The shift in vaccination strategy comes as the state hit a milestone Friday with more than 50 percent of the eligible population now having received the doses for full vaccination. More than 560,000 people 16 or older have 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.

Northern Light Health also is preparing to be able to offer vaccines for younger teens and is anticipating being able to offer vaccines at healthcare provider sites soon, Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 physician incident commander for the healthcare network, said at a media briefing Tuesday. Northern Light Home Care & Hospice is committed to being able to offer vaccine clinics at 22 schools so far starting May 14.

Jarvis encouraged parents who may be feeling apprehensive about having their children vaccinated to do so. “My plea is, think about what this last year has been like for most of our students,” Jarvis said. “They have been either on some type of hybrid of going to school remotely and in-person or being home for long periods of time due to outbreaks in schools and communities. We want to avoid that. The single best way that can happen is through vaccination.”

Before closing the Scarborough Downs site May 20, MaineHealth will offer walk-in access to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and on Monday, May 17, through Thursday, May 20. Appointments made online or scheduled for second doses will continue.

The status of the health system’s two other mass vaccination clinics in Sanford and Brunswick continue to be evaluated based on volume and community need and no decisions have been made as to exactly when those options might no longer be required.

All people 12 and over can register for an appointment at vaccine.mainehealth.org, and those 18 and over can schedule their appointment directly through that site. Information about walk-in options are available through the website, and people also can register by calling 877-780-7545. Once registered, children under 18, or their parents as appropriate, will be notified of an appointment at a clinic set up for younger patients. Only the Pfizer vaccine is available to people under 18, and permission must be given by a parent or legal guardian.


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