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Shah to older Mainers: 'After you've been vaccinated ... you should feel free to hug your grandkids again.'

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah answered questions during a community forum Thursday hosted by the Lewiston Public Library.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said during a community forum on Thursday that once older Mainers have received both doses of the vaccine, and with attention to special public health measures, they will be able to hug their grandchildren and resume interaction with family members.

"The vaccines that we've got right now are a tremendous scientific breakthrough," Shah said. "They reduce the likelihood of getting COVID by 94, 95 percent, and that does mean, after you've been vaccinated, if you're an older Mainer with your grandkids, you should feel free to hug your grandkids again and engage with your families in ways that we know so many people have had to put on hold for a year."

Shah spoke early Thursday afternoon at a forum hosted by the Lewiston Public Library, Healthy Androscoggin, the Lewiston Sun Journal and Bates College.

Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said those who have received both doses of the vaccine should wait 10 to 14 days for it to become fully effective -- "we recommend waiting the full 14 days if one of the huggers is at risk," he said -- and all parties should wear masks during the hugs.

In response to a question from a forum participant, Shah said he tries to stay positive when talking about the vaccine, and he focuses on what it can do and why it’s important.

“We all have been traveling through a very long, dark and sometimes seemingly-endless tunnel and the vaccine represents a light at the end of that tunnel, albeit one that is still, for many Maine people, a ways away,” he said. “When I think about the vaccine, what I want folks to see about it and appreciate about it comes down to one word, which is confidence: confidence in the vaccine and confidence in the vaccination process.”

Shah said the "fears" he hears about most often are whether the vaccine was "rushed" and when people will be able to get vaccinated.

"I don't think it was rushed," he said. "I think it was prioritized."

He said the only constraint on vaccinating people right now is lack of vaccine.

"As soon as we start getting more vaccine in the state, I promise we will get it out the door."