Snow blankets the ground around Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston Wednesday night, December 9, 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Officials from Central Maine Healthcare confirmed Friday the health care system is working with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention to develop a mass vaccination site in hopes of inoculating 1,000 people a day.

Amy Lee, vice president and chief operating officer at Central Maine Medical Group, said CMHC is working with the CDC and “state and community partners to implement a plan for an easily accessible off-site location with the aim of vaccinating 1,000 or more people a day.”

The site is expected to be in Auburn, however Auburn City Manager Phil Crowell said Friday that officials were not ready to release details on the final location. He said they anticipate announcing those details possibly as soon as next week.

It would mark the first mass vaccination site announced that would service the greater Lewiston-Auburn region, after similar sites have either been opened or announced in Bangor, Augusta, Scarborough and Portland.

The development of the site comes as regional health care systems have been working to expand vaccinations under limited supply, and the opening and capacity of Auburn’s site will largely depend on the availability of vaccine doses.

In the meantime, the region’s health care facilities have been attempting to streamline vaccine efforts.

Ann Kim, spokesperson for Central Maine Healthcare, said that system has so far administered first doses to 3,570 Maine residents 70 and older. The vaccinations took place during a “soft launch” earlier this month and at subsequent clinics at the system’s three hospital locations: Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital.

Lee said CMHC is running community clinics Saturday with almost 800 people expected to get the vaccine at Central Maine Medical Center and 200 at Bridgton Hospital.

Kim said appointments are made through the CMHC website and call center as vaccines become available.

“We will plan to start announcing on a set day of the week whether appointments are available,” she said, adding that officials have been making improvements “wherever we can.”

For example, she said, CMHC began offering clinics on weekdays rather than Saturdays at Rumford Hospital and this week launched new technology for booking appointments.

At St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, officials said vaccinations have continued at a slow but steady pace, with the hospital continuing to vaccinate the 70 and older age group.

St. Mary’s spokesman Stephen Costello said the hospital held a clinic this week for first doses, and will be holding clinics on three days next week to administer second doses. The following week, they will hold more first-dose clinics.

“The days and number of appointments will depend on how many doses we get from the state,” he said. “We will again be calling our patients and those who are not patients can find information about signing up on our website.”

St. Mary’s is also holding a clinic at the B Street Clinic in downtown Lewiston on Saturday, he said.

The immunization effort in Maine has so far frustrated seniors who have struggled to secure vaccination appointments amid limited supply.

However, on Thursday state health officials said Maine will see a 14% increase in its allotment of doses next week, plus more than 4,000 doses distributed directly to 24 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies statewide.

In the Sun Journal’s coverage area, there are Walmart locations in Auburn, Oxford, Mexico and Farmington. State authorities have reported appointments have been filling as quickly as they become available.

While pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS have been holding clinics at long-term care facilities in Maine, they have not yet activated clinics at retail stores.

The chains have at times struggled to conduct clinics in a timely manner, and in January were passed over for independent pharmacies despite having a federal contract. The state has redirected unused doses from both chains several times.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday that the state had redirected 3,900 doses of Pfizer vaccine that had been sitting unused at a CVS pharmacy warehouse.

However, the chains have activated vaccination clinics at retail stores in other states, and are hoping to be able to do the same in Maine soon.

Mary Gattuso, senior manager of corporate communications at CVS Health, said Friday that so far, CVS “has not been activated” in Maine for offering vaccines at its retail stores, but said that as more vaccine supply becomes available, the pharmacy chain expects to activate retail stores in more states.

A Walgreens spokesperson did not respond directly to questions about vaccine clinics in Maine, but said that as of Friday, the company had completed first-dose clinics in all long-term care facilities that selected Walgreens as a vaccine provider.

Other inquires sent to Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarket chains regarding when vaccines may become available for customers at their pharmacies were not returned Friday. A statement on the Hannaford website says that the grocery store and pharmacy chain has been “approved for Phase 2 federal COVID-19 vaccine distribution when there is a larger supply of vaccine available, and we are prepared for quick distribution upon receipt.”

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