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New COVID-19 vaccine guidelines likely to bring state changes

Federal officials released millions of doses of the vaccine and recommended prioritizing people 65 and older and those with pre-existing conditions.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's COVID vaccination plan will likely see changes after federal officials announced new priorities on Tuesday—and released millions more doses of the vaccines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it will release all currently available doses of vaccine, including millions currently being held for mandatory second or “booster” doses.

The U.S. CDC says second doses will still be available when needed.

Maine, like other states, has focused so far on getting vaccinations to the most vulnerable people: front line health care workers and emergency medical personnel, along with residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The Maine CDC indicated Tuesday the state had thus far vaccinated more than 58,000 of those people, with nearly as many yet to receive their shots.

On Monday, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said he hopes to send a message that those being vaccinated now are the most critical.

“To really underscore that our concept of operations is those at the highest risk of contracting COVID, spreading COVID, or dying from COVID should really be where the vaccines are used,” he said.

Add older Mainers to that list.

The U.S. CDC announced Tuesday it wants to speed up vaccinations for Americans age 65 and older. It is ordering states to begin vaccinating all those people and to make vaccinations more easily available to the public by moving away from hospitals to other locations.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the priority shift.

“We are telling states they should open vaccinations to all people 65 and over and all those under 65 with comorbidity with some form of documentation as defined by [a] governor,” said Azar. “Expanding eligibility to all the vulnerable is the fastest way to protect the vulnerable. It’s simply much easier to manage allocating vaccine and appointments to all those 65 and over, rather than narrower, more complex categories.”

The Maine CDC will need to figure out how to achieve those objectives. Dr. Shah said Monday they were identifying possible locations for vaccination centers and developing a method for people to sign up for vaccinations ahead of time, but those plans are not finished.

Gov. Janet Mills said late in the day Tuesday that she is reviewing the new U.S. CDC advisories, but said the overall intent of the new plan appears to match her own desire to save lives.

Mills said she will announce updates to Maine’s vaccine guidelines in the coming days.