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. As of Thursday evening, 50.3 percent of Mainers age 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.
But new case numbers as well as hospitalizations remain stubbornly high, particularly among unvaccinated people under age 40 who accounted for 64 percent of new cases during the past week. The state reported 288 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death Friday. Androscoggin County, in particular, continues to record elevated case rates, prompting the Mills administration on Friday to recommend schools there consider hybrid instruction.
Hospital officials are also reporting that the number of people requiring intensive care is approaching the worst levels of last winter’s 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.
But the state continues to make more progress than most states in getting vaccine doses out to the population.
“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. Meanwhile, we thank every Mainer who has gotten a shot and ask them to encourage their friends, family, and neighbors to make an appointment.”
With the 288 new cases reported on Friday, the seven-day average stood at 328 compared to a rolling average of 297 on May 1 and more than double the low of roughly 140 reported in mid-February.
Androscoggin’s case rate of 77 infections for every 10,000 residents was more than double the statewide average. And according to tracking by The New York Times, Androscoggin County had the 14th-highest case rate of any county in the country over the past week.
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 re-classified as green this week because of falling infection rates.
The additional death reported on 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 Center for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked 63,463 confirmed or probable cases of the viral disease.
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 age 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.
“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.”
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 is being launched on Friday in downtown Lewiston, which has experienced one of the worst surges in cases in recent weeks. The clinic, which is located in the city’s municipal parking lot at One Oak Street, will offer vaccinations between noon and 5 p.m. today as well as during the following days and times: from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 10, 1-7 p.m. on May 11, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 13, and 7 a.m. to noon on May 14. The clinic is a partnership between the state, Promerica Health and the city.
The mass vaccination site at the Auburn Mall will also 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 will also begin offering vaccinations with the single-dose J&J vaccine next week at the city’s India Street Health Center, located at 103 India Street. Vaccinations will be available to the public as well as to clients of the India Street clinic. 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 the Fore River campus on weekdays 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.
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 1-888-445-4111.
This story will be updated.