As COVID-19 continues to stalk the state, more and more Mainers are rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated.

Over the past two weeks, the pace of residents getting their first dose of a vaccine has risen by 25% and the average daily tally of those receiving their second dose has more than doubled, Dr. Nirav Shaw, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Dr. Nirav Shah expressed hope during his Wednesday briefing that the faster pace of COVID-19 vaccinations will help thwart the spread of the disease. Screenshot from video

During his weekly briefing Wednesday, Shah also said the number of vaccinated people getting boosters each day has risen by 14%.

Moreover, he said, younger people, especially in rural counties, are getting vaccinated at higher rates than ever.

“It’s great to see more and more people getting vaccinated,” Shah said. “It’s an encouraging trend.”

“It gives us all hope,” Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said.

Overall, though, the pandemic’s toll in the Pine Tree State remains far from rosy.

The CDC reported seven new deaths Wednesday and 620 new cases. There are 209 Mainers in the hospital with the disease, up 24% from two weeks ago, and 74 in critical care units, up almost 25% during the same span.

Shah said it’s not clear why Maine is seeing rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, but one theory is that the rural parts of the state, along with similar areas of Vermont and New Hampshire, had little exposure to COVID-19 until the delta variant swept through in recent months.

Coming at relatively isolated pockets of people, he said, there wasn’t much prior experience with COVID-19 so it’s hitting harder than it might otherwise.

Shah said some blood testing by his federal counterparts has found that only 1% or 2% of people in Maine and Vermont had been exposed to COVID-19 last year, compared to as much as 30% of the population in places that got socked in 2020.

Shah said the rising vaccination rates have led to 70.2% of Mainers to be fully vaccinated. He said 76.1% have had at least their first dose.

At this point, he said, the state is adding 5,200 more doses delivered daily, up by a third during the past week, an indication that the overall numbers will keep rising. Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Shah said the existing infrastructure to get people jabbed will help when the federal authorities provide a green light to vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, a proposal already recommended by an advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration. It is not yet approved, however.

He said officials in Maine are talking about how to make sure they’re ready to roll when the federal government endorses shots for the younger group that includes 79,000 Pine Tree State children.

Shah also had good news for fans of Halloween candy.

He told Mainers that Halloween can be a safe, fun, outdoor activity as long as trick-or-treaters and others “don’t get all up” in anyone’s face.

Plus, the state’s top public health expert expressed no concerns about eating a bunch of treats.

“Smoke if you got ‘em,” Shah said. “The more amount of candy that you can consume, within reason, is the right way to go.”

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