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Maine hospitals prepare for COVID-19 vaccine

Northern Light Mercy Hospital has received a so-called preparation kit for a vaccine. MaineHealth has formed a task force.

PORTLAND, Maine — As the coronavirus vaccine gets closer to coming to Maine, Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland received a so-called preparation kit for a coronavirus vaccine.

"Syringes, needles, alcohol swabs, and PPE," Northern Light Mercy Hospital's Pharmacy Director Amy Gamble said.

It's one of the places the kit was sent to in the state as part of Operation Warp Speed.

"Without them, we would be using our own local supplies and with the whole country going to mass vaccinate all at the same time, there is a risk for shortages so this is one less thing we have to worry about ordering," Gamble said.

MaineHealth has formed a system-wide task force with clinicians from all nine of its local health systems to oversee the distribution of a vaccine amount its front-line caregivers. The task force is setting up vaccine clinics with the staffing of doctors and nurses to administer the vaccines.

In a press release Friday, MaineHealth said it has established a plan for vaccinating its front-line workers over the next two weeks at the hospitals in its system that have seen the highest number of COVID-19 patients, including Maine Medical Center, Southern Maine Health Care and Mid Coast-Parkview Health.   

MaineHealth is to receive an initial allotment of 1,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the Maine CDC as early as this weekend. With the expected addition of the Moderna vaccine, MaineHealth is anticipating another 15,775 does to arrive the week of December 21.    

The next shipment of 15,775 doses includes delivery of an additional 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 14,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine and will provide enough vaccine for all direct care providers across the MaineHealth system. 

Those receiving the Pfizer vaccine will need a second dose 21 days after the first. The Moderna vaccine requires a second dose after 28 days. The Pfizer vaccine was recommended for Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) expert panel on Thursday. The Moderna vaccine will be taken up by the panel Dec. 17. 

The University of New England is also helping the state to prepare. It gave the Maine CDC one of its ultra-cold freezers for the Pfizer vaccine.

"We were able to empty out a very large freezer and then arrange the logistics to get it moves because these things are very big and very heavy," said UNE Professor of Research and Scholarship, Karen Houseknecht.

Meanwhile, Northern Light Mercy Hospital said it is training staff to administer the vaccine to healthcare workers so they are ready once it arrives.