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First doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Maine

The first doses of the vaccine will go to seven Maine hospitals, as well as multiple other long-term care facilities

MAINE, USA — This week, states across the nation prepare to receive the first shipments of the coronavirus vaccine, just days after the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Maine received doses as part of the first round of distribution for the Pfizer vaccine. It will be going to seven Maine hospitals, as well as multiple other long-term care facilities.

On Monday, both Northern Light Health and the Maine CDC held press conferences regarding the vaccine.

"The big item of discussion for today is not testing or not the number of new cases, it is the arrival of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine here in Maine," Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said beginning that media briefing.

1,950 Pfizer vaccines were distributed to Maine, "We are also well aware that the Moderna product will be going up to the FDA for emergency use authorization this week," Dr. James Jarvis from Northern Light Health said.

Jarvis added that he expects Maine will get the Moderna vaccines later this month. Both Northern Light Mercy Hospital and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center received vaccines on Monday.

Other hospitals scheduled to receive vaccines include: 

  • Central Maine Medical Center
  • Maine Medical Center
  • Maine General Medical Center
  • Northern Light AR Gould Hospital
  • Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center

The Mainers getting the first vaccines will be front line workers who are most likely to come in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient. These vaccines will be done in phases so not everyone in one department gets it at once in case mild side effects cause employees to be out of work for a few days.

According to the FDA those side effects include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. 

"We've already identified categories of staff who we feel should receive the vaccine first," Jarvis said.

The COVID-19 vaccine does not use the live virus, health officials say there is no way you or someone in your household could get COVID-19 from getting the vaccine. Even after a person is vaccinated -- officials say it's important to still follow best practices, like mask-wearing and social distancing because the pandemic is not over.

"We are still in this for the long haul so while yes we are jubilant we still need to realize the realities," Jarvis said.

"It is a significant day in Maine, a day I think will be remembered. But it is just the first of many such significant days," Shah echoed. 

Shah said it still may be months before most Mainers are able to get a vaccination. He says front line workers will be notified by their employers and people with pre-existing conditions will likely be notified by their doctors, but for many of us, we will likely hear the news during one of his Shah's media briefings.

"Our goal is to make vaccines at the community level as easy as possible to obtain," he said.

Shah added that may include transforming covid-19 testing sites -- to covid-19 vaccination sites.

The first Mainers are expected to be vaccinated on Wednesday.

The first doses arrived Monday morning at Northern Light Mercy Hospital and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Northern Light Health says they anticipate more doses arriving at AR Gould in Presque Isle later Monday or Tuesday. 

Gov. Janet Mills released the following statement Monday in response to the arrival of the first doses:

“Today, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Maine and will be administered to frontline health care workers across the state. This news is a much-needed beacon of hope in an otherwise difficult time. This logistical feat is the result of months of collaboration by Maine hospital systems, health care officials, long term care facilities, pharmacies, the Federal government, the Maine CDC and DHHS, and others. I thank all of them for their efforts to protect the health and safety of Maine people.

The arrival of this initial shipment is just the beginning of what will be a months long process to receive, distribute, and administer this vaccine, and other new vaccines, as they become available. We will do this in the quickest, most efficient, and most equitable manner possible.

While our spirits are lifted and we share in a collective sense of relief, particularly for frontline health care workers who are exhausted and have been working around the clock to save lives, it will take months to administer the vaccine to all Maine people and we must keep our guard up. I urge Maine people in the strongest terms: wear your masks, watch your distance, avoid gatherings, and wash your hands – to protect yourselves, your loved ones, and your fellow Maine citizens as we undertake this critical process.”

When asked if Mills was going to get the vaccine herself, a member of her staff said in an email, "The Governor has confidence in the recently approved COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. She will receive a vaccine when the Maine CDC’s vaccine plan determines it is appropriate for her to do so pursuant to the US CDC guidelines. Maine’s vaccine plan will continue to be updated and refined pending the approval of other COVID-19 vaccines, manufacturers’ supply capacity, logistical challenges, and Federal support for states’ vaccination efforts."

Maine U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine that the arrival of the vaccine "offers a ray of hope."

"We’re setting devastating new records for coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths almost every day," Pingree said. "The development of a highly effective vaccine in less than a year is one of the greatest advancements of our lifetimes. I have absolute faith that Maine’s leaders are prepared to begin distributing the vaccine to our frontline workers and most vulnerable populations."

Maine has also already submitted a request to the FDA for a second shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to Maine DHHS, counting both shipments, Maine is on pace to have enough to vaccinate approximately 50,525 people. Maine CDC expects the second allocation to include 13,650 doses from Pfizer and 24,200 doses from Moderna. 

"By any measure, today is a day to remember. The arrival of vaccine in Maine represents a significant positive development. A milestone in a process to begin planning for arrival of vaccine that Maine CDC started undertaking back in April. A process that accelerated over the summer, and then began focusing on the last mile in the fall, and in the last recent few weeks the final remaining inches," Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Monday. "The arrival of this vaccine in Maine represents a light at the end of the tunnel. But even when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's important to remember that you're still in a tunnel and blue skies remain a ways away. Hard decisions have been made to get us here and, sadly, even harder ones are likely to be in the offing."

Congressman Jared Golden issued the following statement to NEWS CENTER Maine via email: 

“Today, Maine’s electors cast three votes for president-elect Biden, and one vote on behalf of the Second Congressional District for President Trump, in accordance with Maine law and the election results in our state. In the weeks ahead I will continue to work with the sitting president on important priorities for Maine and the country, from vaccine distribution to our shared goal of ending the war in Afghanistan. And as I have done with President Trump, I commit to working with President-elect Biden when I believe it is in the best interest of Maine’s 2nd District and to stand by my district when I believe his actions are not.”

When asked about Golden's plans to get vaccinated and who he believes should be first in line to receive it, a spokesperson issued the following statement:

“Congressman Golden has received no information about plans to vaccinate members of Congress. Rep. The congressman plans to get vaccinated and will follow the guidance of public health experts as to when he gets his shots. He believes health care workers on the front lines, seniors, and other essential workers should be the top priority for vaccination.”

The FDA has not approved the Moderna vaccine for distribution. However, it will be going through that process this week. 

According to Maine DHHS, the Maine CDC's second order reflects the maximum number of doses that the federal government would allow.

Once the Moderna vaccine receives FDA approval, that vaccine would be distributed to more than 30 hospitals across Maine as early as next week, according to data provided by Maine DHHS. 

The first doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be administered to frontline health care professionals, as well as residents of skilled nursing and long-term care facilities. Dr. Shah said there are very intricate and detailed plans for how Maine CDC will work with facilities to vaccinate residents and staff.

"The hope is that by focusing on, say, frontline healthcare providers as well as nursing home and long-term care facility staff and residents, outbreaks can be held to a minimum," Dr. Shah said Monday. "They will unfortunately still happen and that's a difficult reality but even with a highly effective vaccine and high vaccine coverage rates, there may still be outbreaks. But our hope is that the number and the magnitude of those outbreaks is lower. It also means that hospitals, particularly healthcare workers, may not face the same, say, for example, staffing crunches.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that senior U.S. officials at the White House and on Capitol Hill are expected to receive doses of the vaccine within the week. 

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said Sunday. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.”

President Donald Trump, however, Tweeted Sunday that White House aides should receive the vaccine "somewhat later in the program."

Pingree said, "We’re at the beginning of a long vaccine distribution process. It should go first and foremost to frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Trump administration officials and members of Congress should not be given preferential treatment because of their offices."

RELATED: Top US officials expected to get COVID-19 vaccine this week