Daphne Russell, United Ambulance community paramedicine coordinator and a paramedic, injects Bates College graduate and current United Ambulance paramedic Alec Wilcox with his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Underhill Arena at Bates College in Lewiston on Tuesday. Bates was working in conjunction with the Androscoggin Emergency Management Agency and United Ambulance to quickly get first responders vaccinated. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Northern Light Health, one of the state’s largest health care organizations, announced Wednesday that it has partnered with the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on a mass COVID-19 vaccination site.

The site will officially launch Tuesday with the goal of administering 900 doses on that day and another 900 next Thursday. The site eventually will be able to accommodate as many as 2,000 vaccinations each day, if supply allows. Registration for next week’s slots opened at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and they were filled in less than two hours.

Several more large-scale vaccination sites are in the planning stages, including one at Scarborough Downs, as the state looks to ramp up inoculations of Mainers 70 and older as part of Phase 1B. Already, health care organizations like Northern Light have been conducting smaller vaccination clinics because supply has been so low.

“The smaller sites were a good stopgap measure to get shots into people’s arms as quickly as possible to stop the spread of this deadly virus,” Matt Marston, associate vice president for Northern Light Pharmacy, said in a statement. “As vaccine shipments increase in the coming weeks and months, the Cross Insurance Center site will allow Northern Light Health to be well-positioned to assist in the statewide vaccination effort.”

Meanwhile, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention released additional demographic details late Wednesday afternoon on the age, gender, race and county of residence of the people who have received vaccine shots.

As of Wednesday morning, 92,498 people had received at least the first dose while 28,700 individuals had received both shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Just over 20,000 of the 92,498 people who received a first dose, or 21.8 percent, were age 70 or older, a population that is the target of the current vaccination push because older Mainers have significantly higher death rates from COVID-19. Just 8 percent of the 28,700 individuals who received both shots were age 70 or older, likely due to the fact that the second dose must be administered 21 to 28 days after the first.

Mainers between the ages of 30 and 59 accounted for 51 percent of the recipients of the first dose of vaccine and 62 percent of individuals who were fully inoculated. Those large numbers reflect that the initial phase of vaccinations, starting since mid-December, focused on hospital workers and other health care professionals, first responders and public safety workers, COVID-19 response personnel and staff at long-term care facilities.

Cumberland County has the largest segment of the population that has received at least one shot, at 7.85 percent of residents, followed by Aroostook County with 7.71 percent and Penobscot County with 7.13 percent. Aroostook has been the site of several deadly outbreaks at long-term care facilities in recent weeks. In York County, 4.58 percent of residents had received at least one dose.

While the Maine CDC gathered data on the racial breakdown of vaccine recipients, racial or ethnic information was not provided for nearly 41 percent of the 92,000-plus individuals who received at least one dose of vaccine.

Maine health officials also are planning a state website and call center that will allow the residents to register for a COVID-19 vaccination, validate their eligibility, provide legal consent and then sign up for an appointment. The site is likely still a couple weeks from launching, however.

“I know it’s going to take time. I’m not thrilled about that,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday. “I know that everyone in Maine is not thrilled about that. It is unacceptable and we are working as hard as we can to make sure we get something in place. But I would also rather do it right than do it fast and slipshod.”

As more vulnerable individuals are vaccinated or scheduling their appointments, there are some signs that the spread of COVID-19 might be slowing.

The Maine CDC reported 462 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, along with four additional deaths. But the seven-day average for daily cases has dropped from 620 to 459 over the last two weeks, or one incubation period, but is still up slightly from 448 this time last month and up from 221 two months ago.

Nationwide, daily new cases have been declining as well, from an average of 240,000 two weeks ago to about 165,000 this week. Hospitalizations also have decreased by about 16 percent during that time. New U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during the Biden administration’s first COVID-19 news briefing Wednesday that while she is “encouraged by these trends,” case rates remain high and more vigilance is needed until the vaccine is more widely distributed.

Walensky also addressed the spread of new coronavirus variants that appear to be more contagious. Cases of these variants have started to show up across the country, though none have been detected in Maine yet.

“We have always expected that variants would emerge, and we have been looking for them,” Walensky said. “The variants that have been identified recently seem to spread more easily. They’re more transmissible, which can lead to increased number of cases, and increased stress on our already overtaxed system.”

Experts are still trying to figure out if the vaccines protect against the variants or if additional booster shots will be needed.

There have now been 38,170 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 562 deaths since the pandemic reached Maine a little more than 10 months ago, and 16,290 of those cases have been reported in the last month alone. New cases were reported Wednesday in every Maine county, led by Cumberland County with 144 and York County with 60.

January has been an especially deadly month. By Dec. 31, there had been 347 deaths statewide attributable to COVID-19. Since then, another 215 deaths have been reported, although some of those actually occurred in December but were not reported to or immediately confirmed by the CDC. Nationwide, there have been at least 422,000 COVID-19 related deaths, or as Shah pointed out Tuesday, more than the number of U.S. service members who died during World War II.

Hospitalizations decreased by 11 to 183 on Wednesday. Of those, 51 people were in critical care and 30 on a ventilator. The number of hospitalizations has remained steadily high for more than a month, ranging from a low of 177 people on Dec. 30 to a high of 207 on Jan. 13. Hospitalizations have started to come down across the country as well, according to COVID Tracking Project, but remain at high levels in many states.

Meanwhile, even though there have been some challenges, Maine’s vaccination rate of 8.6 doses per 100 people was eighth highest in the nation, according to a state-by-state tracker by Bloomberg.

Demand for the vaccines has been astronomical, even before the announcement of mass vaccination sites. Northern Light’s senior vice president, Paul Bolin, said the health organization had 3,000 doses available this week for Mainers age 70 and older but received 26,000 email inquiries and 15,000 phone calls for appointments.

“The demand for vaccine certainly greatly outnumbers the amount of vaccine doses we have,” he said, echoing what other hospitals have said in recent days.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was increasing allocations to states by as much as 16 percent next week, but it’s not known yet how much Maine might get. Additionally, the new administration said it is close to securing an additional 200 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which would bring the U.S. total to 600 million doses by summer, enough to vaccinate all the people currently considered eligible.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

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