Harper Tenenbaum, 13, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at InterMed from nurse Emily Morey in South Portland on Tuesday. “We are super excited,” said her father, Dr. Andrew Tenenbaum, an InterMed pediatrician who works out of the South Portland location. “There’s definitely a large number of parents who were eagerly awaiting this decision.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine clinics began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to 12- to 15-year-olds on Tuesday, a day after the Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group.

More than 58,000 Maine youths in that age range are now eligible for the vaccine, which is expected to gain another approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

Parental approval is required for the vaccinations, and it’s unclear where Maine parents stand on the topic. One national survey in April by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care research center, found that 30 percent of parents said they would get the vaccine for their children as soon as it was available, and 25 percent said they would wait to see how the vaccine is working.

At InterMed primary care, which has locations in Portland, South Portland and Yarmouth, pediatricians were already putting shots into arms on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are super excited,” said Dr. Andrew Tenenbaum, an InterMed pediatrician who works out of the South Portland location. “There’s definitely a large number of parents who were eagerly awaiting this decision.”

Officials with Northern Light Health, MaineHealth and Central Maine Healthcare, three of the major health care systems in Maine that operate numerous vaccination clinics throughout the state, also have started seeing adolescent patients or have begun scheduling appointments.

Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident commander for Northern Light Health, said that with parental consent, those seeking a shot for 12- to 15-year-olds should visit covid.northernlighthealth.org for appointments and detailed instructions.

“These vaccines are safe, the data is clear,” Jarvis said. “It is time for everyone eligible to be vaccinated, and now we can add to that list children who are 12 to 15 years old.”

MaineHealth clinics in Westbrook and Brunswick were accepting walk-ins for those 12-15, with parental consent, said John Porter, a MaineHealth spokesman. Parents should check vaccine.mainehealth.org, which is expected to “very soon” open up adolescent appointments, he said.

At Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston, the 12-15 age group can schedule appointments and start getting their shots at the Auburn Mall on Wednesday. Appointment signups are at cmhc.org 

It’s an important step toward defeating the virus and helping families return to the things they love, like getting together with loved ones. Kids could be fully protected for the summer activities that make it so fun to be this age,” said Amy Lee, vice president and chief operating officer of the Central Maine Medical Group.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told reporters in a conference call on Monday that states could begin giving the shots to ages 12-15 on Thursday, after a Wednesday evening meeting of a U.S. CDC advisory group. But some states, including Maine and Georgia, did not wait.

Jarvis said research and results granting the emergency use for ages 12-15 was overwhelming, and the U.S. CDC’s approval on Wednesday is expected to be routine, so Maine went ahead with starting to give the shots.

“Here in the state of Maine we wanted to vaccinate people as soon as possible,” Jarvis said.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said that “per the U.S. FDA emergency authorization amendment issued Monday, COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Maine can now begin vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds with doses from the state’s Pfizer vaccine allotment at their discretion.”

Long said adolescents seeking shots at pharmacies may have to wait until Thursday because those doses are controlled by the federal government.

School-based vaccination clinics are expected to be launched within the next week, Jarvis said. There is just enough time to give both doses of the vaccine to the 12-and-older population before school ends in mid-June. MaineHealth also is planning an extensive school-based vaccination campaign, with details to be announced soon, Porter said.

Tenenbaum said the vaccines are very good at preventing infections, and children, while less likely to get a severe case of COVID-19 than adults, can still fall ill with the disease, and there is potential for long-term, lingering effects from an infection. Unvaccinated children also can be vectors of the disease.

Tenenbaum’s two children, Eli, 15, and Harper, 13, got their shots Tuesday afternoon. Tenenbaum said his children see a connection between their age group getting immunized, being able to see their friends more, and a return to full-time school and activities in the fall.

“The higher percentage of the population that’s vaccinated, and the lower overall rates of COVID-19 we see, that means the more normal schools can operate in the fall,” Tenenbaum said.

Eli Tenenbaum, a freshman at Portland High School, said after getting his shot that he’s looking forward to a more normal life.

“Just being able to hang out with friends, and less wearing masks,” he said. “Just getting things back to normal, being able to go on vacations with my family, things like that.”

His father said that the pandemic was hard on children, and in a post-pandemic society, being able to see friends more consistently is an important step forward.

“For kids, the social and emotional impact of friends on mental health is huge,” Tenenbaum said.

In other coronavirus developments, Gov. Janet Mills joined five other governors at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss vaccination strategy in a forum hosted and streamed live by the White House. During the session, Mills announced a new campaign to provide incentives for vaccinations with free L.L. Bean gift cards, Portland Sea Dogs tickets and other items.

Maine reported 238 additional cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and two additional deaths.

Cases are starting to ease as more people are vaccinated, with Tuesday being the fifth straight day that case counts were below 300. The seven-day average of daily new cases declined to 277.4, compared to 306.6 a week ago. Maine was averaging about 450 cases per day in mid-April.

Since the pandemic began, 64,446 people in Maine have tested positive for COVID-19, and 797 have died. While Maine remains tops in the country for fully vaccinating its population, according to a Bloomberg vaccine tracker, immunizations have been slowing lately as demand has weakened.

The number of daily shots given – on a seven-day average – peaked at about 21,000 per day in mid-April, and is now down to about 11,000 per day.

As of Tuesday morning, 657,160 Maine people had received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 48.9 percent of the state’s 1.3 million population. And 593,915 people, or 44.2 percent of Maine’s population, had gotten their final dose.

Also Tuesday, 129 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine hospitals, including 45 in critical care.

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