Amid a sustained drop in new cases of COVID-19 over the last several weeks, Maine health officials said Wednesday that gaps remain in vaccinating enough residents to help keep a new wave of virus transmission at bay.

“We are only as safe as our least vaccinated county,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said during a briefing.

Although Maine trails just one state, Vermont, in the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated, Shah and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew both acknowledged that vaccinations have plateaued overall and that interest is lagging among younger groups and in rural areas.

For example, among 20- to 39-year-olds who live in Cumberland County, the state’s most populated county, 64 percent are fully vaccinated. The next closest county (Knox) is at just 48.5 percent.

If Cumberland County residents are excluded, the vaccination rate among 20- to 39-year-olds in the rest of the state is just 41 percent. That’s a major area of concern as Maine tries to get closer to herd immunity, and it’s why the state continues to look for ways to increase vaccination options for individuals.

Beginning Thursday, a federally run mobile vaccination clinic will set up at Rising Tide Brewery in Portland and will offer shots from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Sunday.

“These vaccines are available at no charge to you and no appointment is needed,” Shah said.

Lambrew also said the state has received at least 40 inquiries for pop-up vaccination clinics and officials are in the process of “matching those with interested vaccinators who can go on site.” The entities include businesses, summer camps and places of worship, among others. Lambrew also said the state is looking at additional ways to offer incentives to individuals but wasn’t ready to announce anything.

The latest push for vaccinations comes as virus transmission continues to decrease. State health officials reported just 53 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday – the 10th time in the last 11 days that daily cases have been below 100.

Three additional deaths from the virus were reported as well.

The seven-day daily case average now stands at 72, which is about half what it was two weeks ago and down from 307 cases on average this time last month. During the spring peak in mid-April, the case average topped 450.

Since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020, there have been 68,384 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 843 deaths, according to the CDC. Both are among the lowest per capita of any state. Among those cases, 387 are so-called “breakthrough cases” of people who have been fully vaccinated, although that represents just 0.05 percent of all people who have been vaccinated.

Maine also has reported eight individuals who have died after being fully vaccinated, although Shah cautioned against taking that as a sign that the vaccines are not safe or effective. In many cases, those individuals were older and had other health conditions. He said the evidence is unequivocal that vaccinations have led to a “dramatic and sustained reduction in deaths attributed to COVID-19.”

Asked whether the state is moving toward a place where community transmission is becoming less common, Shah said there will come a time, hopefully soon, when “even those who are not vaccinated can enjoy the protections of those who are vaccinated.

“But we’re not there yet,” he said.

Shah did say that as cases continue to decline, the state is planning to ramp up the intensity of its case investigation and contact tracing efforts, tools that were especially important early in the pandemic and will be again as it winds down.

Hospitalizations increased for the first time in 11 days on Wednesday but only slightly. There were 56 individuals in the hospital with COVID-19 in Maine, four more than on Tuesday but still less than half the number from two weeks earlier. Of those hospitalized, 27 are in critical care and 14 are on ventilators.

Shah said people being hospitalized in recent weeks are trending younger, are coming from more rural areas and are unvaccinated.

The decrease in cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Maine is playing out nationally as well. According to the U.S. CDC, the average number of new cases per day is about 13,400, down from 38,600 just one month ago. Deaths from COVID-19 are now averaging 370, compared to 590 per day this time last month. And total hospitalizations in the U.S. are averaging about 22,000 per day, which is the lowest since the early days of the pandemic.

As for vaccinations, Maine has administered 727,039 first doses, representing 61.4 percent of the eligible population of those 12 or older, and 729,258 final doses, representing 61.6 percent of eligible residents. The number of final doses is larger because it includes 76,581 shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but it’s also a sign that demand for new first doses has dried up.

Vaccinations have been slowing down dramatically across the country as well, threatening President Biden’s goal of reaching 70 percent of the adult population with at least one shot by July 4. The United States is averaging just over 1 million shots per day, down from a peak of more than 3 million in mid-April.

In Maine, the average number of daily shots over the past week is about half what it was in mid-May.

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