BANGOR, Maine — In the months spent navigating through the coronavirus pandemic, the priority of keeping Mainers healthy and safe has remained constant. While that goal has stayed the same, other goals set by health experts at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are changing as the pandemic continues.
First, it was a scramble for testing swabs. Then a rush to get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers, first responders, and medical professionals. More recently, the goal of the Maine CDC and the state was to get doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government.
Now, we have the vaccines, and the goal is to administer them.
On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills announced an expansion of the Phase 1A distribution plan to include additional emergency first responders and public safety personnel, and critical COVID-19 response personnel.
The expansion is good news for those who will receive the vaccine, but who will administer it?
"We were tasked by the CDC to receive the vaccine and get it into people very, very quickly," Christine Cattan, the long-term care consultant at Bangor Drug said.
Bangor Drug is one of the local and independent pharmacies working with the CDC to distribute the vaccine.
“We have to be nimble, we have to be flexible, and we have to be able to go where it’s needed," co-owner Charles Ouellette said.
From Portland to Eastport and Fort Kent, Bangor Drug pharmacists have been vaccinating staff and residents at its member facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living centers.
Neither Ouellette nor Cattan, know the exact amount of doses the pharmacy has given out but estimate it to be more than 2,000.
Cattan has been working at flu clinics for years and said about 40 percent of long-term care staff take the shot. But now, she estimated 80 percent of staff are getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly all residents are getting it as well.
“This time they’re ready for us, waiting for us, and it’s been more of a joyous occasion. There are balloons, there are parties, it’s a lot more fun and the residents are quite relieved to receive it," she added.
Before Wednesday's news of the expansion plan for Maine's vaccine distribution, Cattan said her staff could handle more weekly doses from the CDC.
“Which is something that is not easy to achieve so we’re ready, they just have to give it to us and tell us where they want us to go," Catan added.
Bangor Drug does have an ultra-cold freezer for extra doses but has not used it yet because it has administered out every dose it's received from the CDC. The efficiency it's proved is one reason why Bangor Drug is ready for more doses.