Daily vaccinations decreased again last week in Maine – Press Herald

Casco Bay High School nurse Becky Bell stands outside the vaccine clinic at the Portland Expo this month. Vaccinations have declined each week since peaking at more than 17,500 per day the week of April 4. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

For the fifth consecutive week, the average number of daily COVID-19 vaccinations decreased in Maine last week, a trend that suggests demand among younger individuals is not robust.

From Sunday through Saturday, the state averaged 8,411 shots per day, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, even though eligibility expanded to children between the ages of 12-15. The previous week, the average was 9,504 shots per day. The daily average hasn’t been this low since February, when Maine was still vaccinating residents on a strict age-based system.

Vaccinations have declined each week since peaking at more than 17,500 per day the week of April 4, the same week all Mainers 16 and older because eligible under the state’s updated vaccination plan.

Meanwhile, state health officials reported 199 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and one additional death. It was the third straight day of fewer than 200 cases and a small sign that transmission may be slowing following a slight surge in April.

The seven-day daily case average fell to 244, which is the lowest since April 1, according to data tracked by the Maine CDC. This time last month, the daily case average was 456.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 65,914 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 803 deaths. Despite passing 800 deaths in Maine over the weekend, only four other states have seen fewer deaths, even though Maine has the highest percentage of older residents.

Cases and deaths have been falling steadily across the country over the last month. According to the U.S. CDC, the average number of daily cases is about 31,000, which is less than half the average this time last month and down from nearly 250,000 per day at peak in January. The U.S. is now averaging slightly more than 550 deaths per day from COVID-19, down from more than 700 in mid-April and from 3,400 per day at the deadliest point in mid-January.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine stood at 110 on Monday, the lowest daily total in more than three weeks. Of those, 42 are in critical care and 19 are on ventilators.

Health officials say the decreases mean vaccinations are making a difference, although only about 37 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. As of Monday, there were still seven states that had vaccination rates below 30 percent, six of them southern states. And as in Maine, the average number of daily vaccinations have fallen nationwide, from more than 3 million shots in mid-April to about 2 million shots now.

Even though vaccinations have slowed here in recent weeks, Maine still ranks ranks tops among all states in percentage of residents fully vaccinated, according to a Bloomberg tracker. Other vaccine trackers may give different results because they use other population figures, but all generally place the New England states at the top for vaccination rates.

The state has now administered 672,281 first doses, representing 50 percent of the state’s population, and 635,139 final doses, or 47 percent of all residents.

Among residents age 60 or older, 81 percent have gotten their final shots, which is welcome news since they has been at highest risk of serious illness or death throughout the pandemic. But among those between the ages of 16 and 49, just 45 percent have gotten first doses and only 38 percent are fully vaccinated. Many pockets of rural Maine still have a fair amount of hesitancy or resistance, which means reaching herd immunity may not be likely for months, if ever.

In Cumberland County, the vaccination rate is 56 percent, the highest of any county. But in Somerset, Androscoggin and Oxford counties, the rate is still below 40 percent.

Most vaccination sites, including major pharmacies and many grocery stores, are now offering walk-in availability. The state also has extended a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a mobile vaccination clinic that has been traveling to rural parts of the state. That clinic will operate throughout June and will visit Pittsfield, Rumford, Rangeley, Limington and Kittery.

“Bringing vaccines to people who might otherwise have trouble getting them remains a key part of our plan to vaccinate people throughout Maine quickly and equitably,” Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said last week in a statement. “I encourage folks to swing by the MVU when it’s in their neck of the woods to get a shot so they can safely enjoy summer in Maine.”

Additionally, the state has partnered with Promerica Health on a mobile clinic that has visited Lewiston and is currently set up at Poland Spring Golf Course through Wednesday. No appointment is necessary.

Gov. Janet Mills announced last week that, as of May 24, all Mainers who have been fully vaccinated can stop wearing masks in most indoor and outdoor public settings. Capacity restrictions and physical distancing requirements for businesses also will be lifted on that date.

Unvaccinated people will still be asked to wear masks under the revised state mandate, and since eligibility extends only to people 12 and older, that includes young children.

This story will be updated.

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