U.S. Army veteran Roger Anctil of Lewiston receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Sandy Masters on Feb. 4 at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. Anctil, 86, and his wife, Jeanne, both received their first of two doses on Jeanne Anctil’s 87th birthday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Androscoggin and Oxford counties are among those lagging behind the rest of the state in vaccinating people 70 and older.

As of Friday, Androscoggin and Oxford were among five counties where 50% or less of people 70 and older had received as least a first dose, while counties such as Cumberland and Sagadahoc have vaccinated 77% of that age group.

During a briefing Friday on vaccine eligibility, Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is closely watching for disparities between rural and urban areas.

Gov. Janet Mills began the briefing with an announcement that the state as a whole has vaccinated 60% of people 70 and older. But, the five counties playing catch-up were the subject of several questions.

“We continue to worry about Western Maine, we know there are some gaps in Oxford County and Somerset County,” Lambrew said. “Every week we look at the map, see where there are gaps, and look at how we deploy not just vaccines, but vaccinators and other staff to those sites to make sure everyone in Maine who is eligible has an opportunity to get vaccinated.”

Somerset County is at 44%, the lowest in all of Maine. As of Friday, Androscoggin and Oxford were at the 50% mark.

The numbers were shared on the same day that state officials announced that Maine would expand vaccine eligibility to people 60 and older starting March 3, and that the state will be using an age-based eligibility in the coming months.

State officials were asked during the briefing whether the state anticipated redistributing vaccine doses based on disparities in the availability of appointments between clinics in Southern and Northern Maine.

Mills said a big piece of its planning efforts hinge on a Federal Drug Administration decision regarding the emergency use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, which is more easily transported and stored. Officials said that vaccine could also open the possibility for drive-through clinics in the state, which could benefit more rural communities.

Lambrew said Cumberland County has outpaced counties such as York (58%), for example, due to more “capacity” provided by mass vaccination sites such as Scarborough Downs.

“But the good news is help is on the way,” she said, referring to an additional site planned for York County.

Last week, officials at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston said they are working with the state to develop a mass vaccination site in the Lewiston-Auburn area capable of administering 1,000 doses per day, but have not announced further details.

While health officials didn’t have specific details to share regarding the site, Central Maine Healthcare is readying for a “high-volume operation.”

Amy Lee, vice president and chief operating officer of Central Maine Medical Group, said the group administered nearly 1,000 doses between Central Maine Medical Center and Bridgton Hospital last weekend.

“Our planning takes into consideration vaccine availability, location, technology, accessibility and more,” she said. “A high-throughput vaccination site necessitates a location that meets many requirements to serve the community. It’s an effort that has benefited from much collaboration with partners. It’s important to us to get it right for the people who entrust us with their care.”

A hospital spokesperson said of the total vaccines administered at community clinics, 92.4% of people were 70 or older.

With the state opening eligibility to those 60 and older next week, state officials were asked Friday whether health care institutions will be directed to prioritize 70 and older.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said they will be “focused on eligibility,” but that health care providers are free to make decisions on whether to set aside certain appointments for the remaining 70 and older residents. He said their focus is on making sure providers are “equipped” with the vaccine doses they need, and working with local providers to get “the older age categories up to speed” in the counties that need it.

During Thursday’s briefing, Lambrew said the state is “paying a lot of attention and focus” on counties such as Oxford County. She said they are hoping that more localized pharmacies like Walgreens and Walmart offering vaccines will help address the numbers in more rural areas.

Percent of 70 and older population vaccinated by county:

Cumberland 77%
Sagadahoc 77%
Lincoln 73%
Waldo 70%
Knox 64%
Hancock 64%
Penobscot 62%
Aroostook 61%
York 58%
Franklin 56%
Piscataquis 51%
Oxford 50%
Androscoggin 50%
Washington 49%
Kennebec 49%
Somerset 44%

 

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