More than 2,000 schoolchildren have gotten their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine since those 5 to 11 years old became eligible a week ago, according to state data released Tuesday.

The pace is expected to speed up statewide as more clinics will launch in the coming weeks to meet demand, especially as more Maine schools start offering mass vaccinations.

But the rate of vaccinations already varies widely across the state, mirroring rates for older children and adults. And the counties with lower vaccination rates, including for young children, are also the counties where the virus continues to spread fastest.

For the first time, Maine released data on the number of 5-to-11-year-olds who have received first doses. Maine reported that 2,018 elementary schoolchildren have received their shots since federal regulators approved the two-shot Pfizer vaccine for children Nov. 2, a reflection of pent-up demand among many families and children who have been waiting for the opportunity for months.

Half of those vaccinations for 5-to-11-year-olds were administered in Cumberland County, which has vaccinated 4.68 percent of newly eligible children who live there. That’s twice the state average of 2 percent in the first week and the highest rate so far in any county. Lincoln County has the next highest rate at 3.49 percent, followed by York at 1.87 percent. Cumberland, Lincoln and York counties also have the lowest infection rates among Maine counties.

Androscoggin County has vaccinated the least in the age group, at 0.38 percent, followed by Somerset County at 0.45 percent. Somerset County has the highest rate of virus transmission in Maine, while Androscoggin County’s infection rate is also above the state average.

The pediatric shots have been offered primarily at pharmacies and standalone community clinics coordinated by health care systems like MaineHealth, Northern Light Health and InterMed. But soon, school-based clinics will be putting “shots in arms.”

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer, said the health care system is planning dozens of school-based clinics. Mills said most of the clinics didn’t start this week because they needed time for planning and to educate parents on what to expect and answer questions about the vaccine. A Zoom meeting about MaineHealth’s upcoming Nov. 17 clinic at Great Falls Elementary School in Gorham was attended by more than 170 parents.

“It’s going to be a lot bigger next week,” Mills said. “These clinics are the way to get our kids vaccinated most efficiently.”

Northern Light Health, the parent entity of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, is hosting clinics at 18 school districts, mostly in southern Maine, said Andrew Soucier, a Northern Light spokesman. Penobscot Community Health Center will organize school clinics in the Bangor region, he said.

While most clinics are starting next week, Scarborough schools are hosting a series of clinics for children 5 to 11 this week.

On Tuesday Maine also reported 938 new cases of COVID-19 over the past three days, and eight additional deaths.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not report case counts over the weekend, so Tuesday’s report includes cases from Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 108,710 cases of COVID-19, and 1,215 deaths.

The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 514 on Tuesday, compared to 473.4 a week ago and 498.7 a month ago. Cumberland County, the state’s most-vaccinated, had the least number of total cases over seven days, at 151.9 per 100,000 population. Oxford County was the hardest hit by the virus, with a total of 520.9 cases per 100,000 over seven days. Cumberland County has vaccinated 80 percent of its population, while Oxford County, one of the least-vaccinated in Maine, has immunized 61.2 percent of its population.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine’s CDC director, appearing on the Maine Public radio show “Maine Calling” on Monday, called the latest pandemic trends in Maine a “high plateau.”

“This trend we are seeing, this high plateau of cases, hospitalizations and deaths is likely to continue,” Shah said. He said the virus “just tears through” rural parts of the state with low vaccination rates.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals remained at 215 Tuesday, with 72 patients in intensive care and 31 on ventilators. The majority of those patients are unvaccinated, according to hospitals and state health officials.  Those patients are straining resources and staffs, forcing hospitals to delay medical procedures for other Mainers so the hospitals can care for COVID-19 patients.

With vaccinations beginning last week for 5-to-11-year-olds, schoolchildren from kindergarten through high school seniors now are eligible for vaccination, and public health officials hope the increased immunizations will help control the pandemic.

But school outbreaks have remained high, with the Maine Department of Education reporting on Thursday that 161 school outbreaks generated 3,308 COVID-19 cases – including students and staff – over the past 30 days. Some of the schools reporting the highest numbers include Sanford High School with 43 cases and Winslow Elementary School with 39 cases. The numbers have jumped from 2,916 cases and 125 outbreaks on Oct. 21 to 2,943 cases and 144 outbreaks on Oct. 28 before increasing again last week.

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