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Maine adopts age-based COVID-19 vaccine strategy, those age 60+ eligible starting next week

Beginning next Wednesday, March 3 Maine will expand eligibility for the vaccine to those 60 years and older, Gov. Mills announced Friday

AUGUSTA, Maine — In a press conference on Friday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced the state is adopting an age-based strategy for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and announced Maine residents age 60 and older will be eligible starting next Wednesday, March 3. 

Mills said the change is "an effort to save lives and ensure that health care providers can efficiently and quickly vaccinate as many people as possible."

Maine has been in Phase 1b of its original phased vaccination plan, which deemed those age 70 and older eligible for the vaccine. Since the vaccination process began in December, 328,357 total doses of the vaccine have been administered, with 110,690 of those being second and final doses. 

In the press conference on Friday, Mills said around 60 percent of Mainers age 70 and older have received their first dose of the vaccine, which she said is an achievement thanks to the hard work of the Maine CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, as well as health organizations across the state. 

Mills explained the decision to move to an age-based strategy was decided in consultation with the Maine CDC and Maine DHHS, and it "reflects recent scientific data indicating that age is among the strongest predictors of whether an individual is likely to get seriously ill and die from COVID-19, even more so than risk factors such as underlying medical conditions," the governor's office said in a release. 

The planned schedule, which Mills said is subject to change depending on fluctuations in vaccine supply including an acceleration if supply increases, is as follows: 

  • March 3: Eligibility expands to residents age 60 and older 
  • April: Eligibility expands to age 50 and older 
  • May: Eligibility expands to age 40 and older 
  • June: Eligibility expands to age 30 and older 
  • July and beyond:  Ages 29 and under, including children pending authorization of a vaccine for them 

“Throughout the pandemic, my fundamental goal has been to save lives and protect our most vulnerable people. A review of recent data by the Maine CDC indicates that age is a significant predictor of whether someone will become seriously sick or is more likely to die if they contract COVID-19,” Mills said in a statement. “Taking that into consideration, along with the clarity, predictability, and relative ease of implementation, I believe this approach is the best option to save lives and ensure the vaccine can be administered to as many people as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We are undertaking the largest mass vaccination effort in history, and I am grateful to Maine people for their understanding and patience as we make adjustments to reflect the latest science and get shots into arms as quickly as we can.”

The Mills administration said in a release that this approach maintains Mills’ strategy to distribute and administer vaccines in order to protect the most vulnerable—those most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

The administration also explains that this "straightforward strategy" also replaces the "complicated eligibility rules" the original plan put forth, such as types of work and medical conditions, which Mills says would be "difficult to implement and verify."

"Such rules could inadvertently slow down the process of getting shots into the arms of Maine people, a critical goal to limit the spread of new COVID-19 variants," the administration said in a relase. "Instead, this clear approach provides a greater measure of certainty and predictability that allows all Maine people to know when they will be eligible for vaccination and is easier to implement and verify for health care providers."

“Efficiency, equity, and science continue to guide our vaccination strategy,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a statement. “The research that has been published in recent months consistently and strongly shows that age matters when it comes to COVID-19 risk. As we work toward vaccinating all Mainers, from oldest to youngest, it remains critical that Maine people continue to wear face masks in public, stay at least 6 feet apart, and avoid non-essential gatherings with people who don’t live with them.”  

As part of the vaccination plan update, Mills has also directed Maine DHHS to provide in the coming weeks vaccination opportunities dedicated to pre-K-12 school staff who are eligible for vaccination within the age categorizations. This planning is underway to ensure a streamlined opportunity for the education workforce, and school staff can expect to receive information from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services on when and where these opportunities will be provided. 

The administration says Mills hopes that by providing dedicated opportunities for vaccination for teachers within their age categorizations, Maine can further protect school staff and provide more consistency for schools in terms of staffing moving forward. 

In the meantime, as Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew announced in the coronavirus briefing Thursday, the Mills administration has purchased 250,000 BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests that it has prioritized for schools, and child care providers, to expand regular testing and support in-person learning. 

“Maine teachers, staff, students, and school administrators have worked hard and well this last year to follow public health guidance and promote effective learning, including in-person learning," Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, said in a release. “Holding dedicated vaccination clinics for eligible teachers and school staff will help to keep them and their students in the classroom.”

Watch the press conference here:

Statements from Maine health officials:

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine DHHS commissioner

“Simply vaccinating by age will increase our rate of shots in arms, helping us to win the race against the COVID-19 variant taking hold in Maine and look forward to a summer in Maine that, with masks and social distancing, can resemble normal. While eligibility is extending to those in their 60s, we continue to work with health care providers and community partners to help those within that population who are the oldest, who are otherwise at risk or disadvantaged, or who  may struggle to get to a vaccination site or access online appointments.”

Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer of MaineHealth

“Clinical studies show that age is the strongest predictor of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and we support the governor’s decision to expand vaccination eligibility to those aged 60 and over. The incidence of serious illness and death increases with age, and prioritizing in this way is a straightforward and sound way to allocate vaccine to those most at risk.”  

James Jarvis, MD, physician leader for Incident Command, Northern Light Health, and director, Clinical Education, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center

“Northern Light Health welcomes this adjustment to Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Not only does this approach serve to vaccinate our largest vulnerable population, it also ensures that our state will remain leaders in efficient use of the vaccine.  This approach provides vaccine facilities with clear guidance on who is to be vaccinated at each stage. It also removes unnecessarily complex barriers to vaccination, such as determination and verification of eligibility in categories other than age.  In the end, with a limited supply of vaccine, efficiency and ease of operations will serve our communities and fellow Mainers better than any other approach allowing us to vaccinate all Mainers faster.”

Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director

“Ninety-five percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people 50 or older. AARP Maine strongly supports the continued vaccination expansion to broader age-groups in our state. Individuals over 50 have been impacted more than anyone else by the coronavirus, and we will continue to work with Governor Mills and her team to ensure every Mainer who wants a vaccine can easily access it in their community.” 

Grace Leavitt, President of Maine Education Association

“The MEA appreciates that the Governor has heard us and that she recognizes the important role of our dedicated and hardworking educators and their heroic efforts to continue providing instruction and support for Maine’s students despite these extremely challenging times. We understand how difficult this is for everyone. Having educators prioritized within these bands by providing dedicated vaccination opportunities to expedite their receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will provide additional safety for our educators, our students, and our communities.”

Eileen King, executive director of Maine School Superintendents Association

“The Governor’s continued prioritization based on age, in recognition of the increased risk, is prudent and commendable, and we are so grateful for the addition to this plan to provide vaccination opportunities for school personnel, just as soon as they are eligible. We will work with superintendents and the Maine DOE to support this creative solution to getting our school staff vaccinated, further protecting their health and safety while they are providing for their students.  This will help as schools continue to abide by the required framework to keep everyone safe.” 

Steve Bailey, Executive Director of Maine School Boards Association

“The vaccination timeline announced today is welcomed news to our school communities and the school boards who have been advocating for and supporting the safe operations of Maine schools. The continued prioritization of those most at risk, combined with this practical approach to vaccination opportunities that are dedicated to our education workforce, will further support the healthy and safe operations of schools and protect our neighbors.”  

This story will be updated.