Ellysa Roda, a registered nurse, administers a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Ryan Bowers, 34, of Jackson on Thursday at a FEMA pop-up vaccination clinic behind the Rising Tide brewery in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

People can get a beer and a jab at one of Portland’s popular breweries this weekend, as the state expands its campaign to try to persuade the younger crowd to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The mobile vaccination unit, a partnership between the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has traveled all over Maine and will be at Rising Tide Brewing Co. through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The brewery site on Fox Street is giving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Small, localized clinics at public gathering spots and workplaces are becoming increasingly common as health officials work to boost vaccinations and keep driving down the infection rate across the state.

Maine reported 65 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as lower daily case counts continue. There were no additional deaths.

Ryan Bowers, 34, wearing a Star Wars mask, received his Johnson & Johnson dose Thursday afternoon, and admitted he had been procrastinating getting a shot, partly because he lives in rural Jackson and isn’t around a lot of people. The produce delivery worker was working in Brunswick on Thursday, and had heard about the vaccine site in Portland, so he decided to swing by.

“I thought, ‘All right now, no more excuses,” said Bowers, one of the few trickling in to get a shot early Thursday afternoon. “I didn’t want to be one of those people who told everyone, ‘I’ll get it, I’ll get it’ and then didn’t get it.”

A FEMA pop-up vaccination clinic behind the Rising Tide brewery in Portland is vaccinating walk-ins with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Thursday through Sunday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Another brewery, Maine Beer Co., at 525 Route 1 in Freeport, is hosting a vaccine clinic through a partnership with MaineHealth on June 16 and June 23, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also, the Portland House of Music will host a vaccine clinic at its live concert venue from 8-11 p.m. on July 7 and July 12. These are all efforts to try to get the vaccines to where younger people live and work.

About 43 percent of those ages 12-39 are fully vaccinated in Maine, compared to 73 percent of those 40 and older.

Dr. Marsha Mallett, a pharmacist working for the FEMA mobile vaccination unit, said that they have immunized nearly 10,000 people, often in small towns across Maine.

“If we vaccinate 10 people, that’s more than zero. If we vaccinate 20, that’s more than zero. Five is more than zero,” Mallett said. “We are here to save lives, no matter how many. That’s the way I look at it.”

Dr. Sam McCreedy, the physician at the Rising Tide vaccine clinic, said much of what he does is dispel misinformation about the vaccines that circulates online and people ask him at the clinics.

“I just try to provide people with good information,” McCreedy said. “There’s so much bad information out there. If people aren’t getting the vaccine because they choose not to, that’s one thing, but if they are not getting the vaccine because of bad information, that’s a tragedy.”

Nathan Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide with his wife, state Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, said they want everyone who wants a shot to be able to easily get one.

“We heard about this and just thought it would be a good fit,” Sanborn said. “We were happy to do it.”

A lunch crowd sat outside on a pleasant and sunny Thursday afternoon, most not wearing masks. A sign at the entrance read, “Not Vaxxed? Mask up.”

The seven-day average of daily new cases dropped to 67.3 on Thursday, compared to 82.9 a week ago and 304.3 a month ago. At the pandemic’s peak in mid-January, cases were routinely more than 600 per day. Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 68,449 cases of COVID-19, and 843 deaths.

On the immunization front, 734,632 people, or 54.65 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million population, have received their final dose of COVID-19, including people who have gotten two shots of Moderna or Pfizer, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson.

Counties where higher percentages of people have gotten vaccinated were more likely to have lower case rates over the last two weeks, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Cumberland County, which leads the state with a 66 percent vaccination rate, had the second-lowest case rate, at 4.10 per 10,000 population. Knox County, which has the second-best vaccination rate at 61 percent, had the lowest case rate at 3.52 per 10,000 population.

In contrast, Somerset County, with the worst vaccination rate in the state at 43 percent fully vaccinated, has a case rate of 15.65 per 10,000 people over the past two weeks. Oxford County has recorded the second-worst vaccination rate at 46 percent fully immunized, and has the third-worst case rate at 11.21 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people.

Maine is receiving $32 million in grants from the federal government – the state’s share of a $2.2 billion program – to reduce disparities in testing and vaccination among underserved communities, such as people living in rural areas and minorities.

“The pandemic has laid bare longstanding health inequities, and health departments are on the front line of efforts to address those inequities,” said Dr. Jose Montero, director of the U.S. CDC’s Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support. “These grants will provide these health departments with much needed support to address disparities in communities that need it most.”

The decrease in cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Maine is playing out nationally as well. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average number of new cases per day is about 13,400, down from 38,600 just one month ago. Deaths from COVID-19 are now averaging 370, compared to 590 per day this time last month. And total hospitalizations in the U.S. are averaging about 22,000 per day, which is the lowest since the early days of the pandemic.

The easing pandemic also spurred Maine on Wednesday to announce that all physical distancing requirements will be lifted for the fall, so that schools can return to five days per week of in-person learning.

“Classroom instruction is critical for the social and mental development of our kids,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a news release. “School administrators and teachers have worked hard all year to protect their students from the virus, provide them with a good education, and meet many of their other needs. With the progress we’ve made in vaccinating Maine people, we want to make sure that there are no barriers to getting our kids back into the classroom full-time.” 

On Thursday, there were 49 people in Maine hospitalized with COVID-19, including 27 in critical care.

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