Maine made some progress Monday in addressing the lack of COVID-19 vaccine allocated to long-term care facilities in the wake of the federal pharmacy program that prioritized nursing homes and assisted-living facilities at the start of the vaccine rollout.

Additional vaccine could be available to long-term care facilities as soon as next week, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, after public health officials met with representatives of the state’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities Monday morning.

It can’t come soon enough for seniors in long-term care who are still struggling to be inoculated against the virus that has taken its heaviest toll among nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The federal pharmacy program led by CVS and Walgreens that delivered vaccine to long-term care facilities is nearly completed, with most hosting clinics for first and second doses by the end of February. Since then, however, many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have welcomed new rehabilitation patients and long-term residents who are unvaccinated.

As a result, many long-term care facilities that had vaccinated all or most patients and residents now have newcomers who remain at risk of contracting the virus that poses the greatest threat to older Mainers. Nursing home residents account for more than one-third of 725 COVID-19 related deaths here so far, yet about 25 percent of Mainers 70 and older were still unvaccinated at the end of last week, state health officials said.

Among the unvaccinated is Laurette Gallagher, 88, a resident of Ashton Gardens, an independent-living community in Portland. Eligible on and off from the start, she has struggled to get a shot since independent-living facilities across the nation were dropped from the federal pharmacy program in January, in large part because there wasn’t enough vaccine.


For the last three weeks, Gallagher has been a rehab patient at the Springbrook Center, a skilled-nursing facility in Westbrook, after undergoing orthopedic surgery at Mercy Hospital in Portland, said her daughter Martha Corkery of Brunswick. Gallagher was discharged without being inoculated because the state isn’t allocating vaccine for hospital patients at this time.

Martha Corkery says she is having trouble scheduling a vaccination for her mother, Laurette Gallagher, 88, who is in rehabilitation after a hospital stay. “Every time they open eligibility to another group, her chances of getting vaccine get smaller,” Corkery said.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Now, Corkery is battling to get an appointment for her mother at a mass vaccination clinic in the Portland area, though she’s been warned that her mother likely won’t be able to leave the nursing home until she can walk on her own. Last week, the nursing home notified Corkery that a resident on another floor had tested positive for the virus, making Corkery even more fearful for her mother, who has diabetes and circulatory issues that put her at even greater risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.

“There’s no vaccine for my mother, and every time they open eligibility to another group, her chances of getting vaccine get smaller,” Corkery said. “I’m upset for her, but how many other people are getting left out?”

Directors of the Maine Immunization Program and the state’s Office of Aging and Disability Services met Monday with leaders of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents 92 nursing homes and 105 assisted-living facilities.

“We were very encouraged by the discussion this morning,” said Rick Erb, the association’s president and CEO. “I don’t think it’s all been resolved, but I think we’re in agreement that steps need to be taken to make sure long-term care facilities that were given high priority in the beginning have continued access to vaccine.”

The association agreed to survey its members to determine how many residents and employees need to be vaccinated, said Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine CDC.


“When that number becomes available, we will allocate doses and finalize the process for these people to be vaccinated,” Long said. “A new round of vaccinations at skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities could begin next week.”

Additional rounds of vaccine would be allocated to long-term care facilities as needed in the weeks ahead, Long said.

By some estimates, 10 doses per week per facility could keep their vaccination numbers up and provide for any employees who want to be vaccinated. In long-term care facilities across Maine, about 92 percent of residents and 65 percent of employees have been vaccinated, according to a recent survey by Erb’s organization. Workers have declined for a variety of health and personal reasons.

Vaccine would be delivered by public health nurses, independent community pharmacies or emergency medical technicians, which is how the Maine CDC has provided vaccine to the independent-living facilities that were dropped from the federal pharmacy program.

Long and Erb said some of the logistical challenges still plaguing the vaccine rollout, including hospitals discharging patients who haven’t been vaccinated, could be addressed as more of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine becomes available. It also requires only regular refrigeration, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require freezers.

For hospital and rehab patients, “it would remove the ‘How do they get a second dose?’ question from the equation,” Long said.

Martha Corkery hopes the Maine CDC comes through with vaccine for her mother next week. Without it, Laurette Gallagher faces several more weeks of nerve-racking concern in rehab.

Corkery, 64, felt guilty last week when she got vaccinated in the age 60-plus category. Her mother also learned last week that she missed a vaccination clinic that was finally held at Ashton Gardens, her independent-living community. It’s been one disappointment after another.

“My mother is of a generation that she thinks everyone’s looking out for her,” Corkery said. “So that’s the biggest letdown, because they’re not.”

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