The gaping regional inequality in vaccine availability in Maine has worsened this week as the state’s distribution left mass vaccination sites serving upstate York and the western suburbs of Portland operating at 50 to 80 percent of their capacity.
Meanwhile, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, spent two minutes at a media briefing on Tuesday, urging residents aged 70 and over to schedule vaccinations at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, where Northern Light Health vaccinates more than 1
However, the MaineHealth vaccination site in Scarborough Downs operated at only 80 percent capacity due to a lack of vaccine, despite serving the most densely populated area in nearby York County, which has the largest number of unvaccinated employees in the state: Monday based on census and demographics, compared with 8,900 in Penobscott County, where the Cross-Insurance Center is located.
Shah and MaineHealth have apparently conflicting accounts of why this is happening – and why Northern Light and other Penobscott providers received 8,720 doses of vaccine this week, while York County suppliers received 1,600 and Scarborough Downs dealt 4,000. to serve the counties of Cumberland and York
Cumberland County, with Scarborough Downs at its southern end, has 9,120 doses, about the same number as Penobscot, although it has twice the population and hosts medical centers and vaccination sites that serve much of Sagadak County and North York.
Shah said the problem was the lack of additional capacity in Scarborough and other mass vaccination sites in the state, which received less money than the number of unvaccinated people over 70 in their service areas would have suggested.
“I was really clear about my priorities: If you run a high-performance site like Cross Center or Scarborough Downs or Intermed and you need more vaccine, we’ll find it,” Shah said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m not stingy or have any special love for Penobscot County. If they have people who want to get shot, I’ll give them a vaccine. “
Shah said he was reaching out to all providers of mass vaccination sites and encouraging them to expand their capacity quickly, as large sites have the fastest and most effective methods for achieving effective herd immunity in the population. Northern Lights faced the challenge, he said, expanding its capacity from 900 shots a day when it opened on February 2 to about 2,000 at the moment, and received large sums of money.
“I have suggested this on other sites,” Shah said. “If (MaineHealth) needs more vaccines, I’ll get more. Tell me what you can do and I’ll get it. ”
That explanation did not add to MaineHealth’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joan Boomsma, who said the health system was looking for greater distributions of vaccines for Scarborough Downs and other suppliers. The Scarborough Downs site is ready to deliver 5,000 vaccines a week, she said, but only gets enough vaccine from the CDC in Maine to make about 4,000 first doses a week.
“MaineHealth has the ability to vaccinate significantly more qualified COVID-19 specialists if more vaccines are provided,” Boomsma said in a written response to questions.
Overall, MaineHealth – the state’s largest healthcare network and the dominant provider in Cumberland, York, Franklin, Oxford, Lincoln and Knox counties – received 8,250 first doses from the CDC in Maine this week. “We could easily administer the first 12,000 doses next week and even more next week,” Boomsma added.
She said MaineHealth informed the management team at the Ministry of Health and Social Services by e-mail on February 15 that it had “identified the necessary staff and created the necessary infrastructure to administer up to 25,000 total (first and second) doses of vaccine per week.” “
She also said that the MaineHealth Westbrook vaccination site operates at half of its 2,000 capacity for the first dose per week, also due to a lack of supplies, and that the network offers vaccines only 35 to 40 percent of capacity.
MaineHealth’s waiting list for the first doses is about 30,000 eligible people over the age of 70, Boomsma said, some of whom have been on the list since Jan. 26. More than half of them – about 18,000 – live in Cumberland and York counties.
“Clearly, we have a significant opportunity to vaccinate Maine residents over the age of 70 in the south of the state, provided we have the vaccine for that,” Boomsma said in a statement.
In response to MaineHealth’s allegations, Shah stood up, saying that MaineHealth had not yet reported that it had used all the doses allocated for the week and that the hospital network had not “announced a specific request for more doses.”
“We continue to strive to work with MaineHealth and other systems to vaccinate as many Maine residents as possible and fairly, and look forward to a day when MaineHealth demonstrates that it can get more shots in people’s hands in accordance with Maine’s vaccination plan, “Shah said in an e-mail statement sent Thursday night.
Shah and Gov. Janet Mills sharply criticized MaineHealth after Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz revealed that the network had vaccinated thousands of its remote workers who did not interact with patients, as well as 10 out-of-state consultants hired to help block the union’s efforts. from Nurses in Maine. Shah said on February 9th that hospitals that violated the vaccination guidelines would take away their vaccines.
Supply restrictions also apply to MaineGeneral’s new mass vaccination site at the August Civic Center, which opened on February 17. It serves Kennebeck County, which started the week with approximately 9,939 residents aged 70 and over who have not yet received their first dose, or 58 percent of that age group, one of the worst figures in the state.
This week, the Maine CDC distributed 2,100 doses to county providers, 1,440 of which are used on the Civic Center website in August, according to MaineGeneral spokesman Joy McKenna.
“We are able to increase our weekly vaccinations to reach the vaccination rate of up to 1,000 people a day,” McKenna said in an email. “We increased our vaccine order, adjusted our schedule and staff to achieve this goal.”
The hospital is really facing a chicken and egg problem: It will not allocate a large number of staff to expand the facility’s capacity unless it knows it will receive a large increase in the vaccine. “If we were to receive 1,000 extra doses tomorrow, it would take us a week to recruit staff and appoint patients to the vaccination clinic,” she said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, she said there were about 5,000 people aged 70 or over on the waiting list. “Because we know how many vaccines we will receive next week, we turn to them to plan them.”
At Central Maine Healthcare, the parent company of Central Maine Medical Center, which is the primary vaccination site in Androscoggin County, supply is also a major constraint. “Our capacity is based on the availability of vaccines,” said CMHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Alexander. “As this grows, so does our capacity.”
He said CMHC would also need prior notice to dramatically increase capacity, as it would have to divert qualified personnel from other jobs.
At York Hospital, a 48-bed hospital serving South York County, capacity appears to be a limiting factor. Hospital spokesman Jean Colac said the vaccination site at St. Christopher’s Church in York had an effective capacity of 400 to 500 doses a day, but was still working its way up to be open five days a week and was received as many doses as the Maine CDC could handle.
Accumulated hospitals for eligible vaccine seekers amount to 4,950, she said.
Northern Light announced on Wednesday that the Cross Insurance Center clinic in Bangor will expand from three to four days a week. Spokeswoman Susanny Spurs said the network was still in high demand and that the slots that opened this week were due to a problem with the system’s planning software, which keeps slots in reserve for people in need of their second dose of vaccine.
“When this was caught and corrected, a number of meetings for the first doses opened for today and tomorrow,” Spruce said by email. “We saw an increase in the number of people who registered online and by phone later in the day, and we appreciate Dr. Shah’s help in delivering the message.”
Some regions in eastern and northern Maine – including near Bangor – have probably reached the threshold of “early adopters” aged 70 and over who are actively seeking to be vaccinated, Spruce said. “We now have a lot of people looking forward to their turn – especially this group over 65,” she said.
The CDC in Maine may extend vaccine eligibility to include 65- to 69-year-olds as early as next week. “If there are open slots, this is a good signal for us that we can open the categories to start filling these places,” Shah said at a briefing on Tuesday.
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