PORTLAND, Maine — On Tuesday, Northern Light Mercy Hospital’s mass COVID-19 vaccination site will open at the Portland Expo.
Hospital, state, and local leaders got to tour the clinic on Monday morning.
"We are incredibly excited to open this site tomorrow," Mercy Hospital Vice President Melissa Skahan said.
The clinic will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., by appointment only, on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those eligible for the vaccine. Eligibility will expand to those age 60 and older starting this Wednesday as part of Maine’s new age-based vaccination plan, which Gov. Janet Mills announced last week.
The Expo is home to the Maine Red Claws, the NBA G League affiliate of the Boston Celtics, and is over 24,000 sq. ft.
“The Expo offers the benefits of both square footage for the clinic space as well as a great location, with access to public transportation and onsite parking," Skahan said when the clinic site was announced in February.
There will be 16 vaccination booths in the clinic.
When people arrive for their appointment, they will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and will have their temperatures checked before going to check-in. They will then get the vaccine will wait at the clinic for a 15 minute observation period.
Health care officials said the process takes about 30 minutes total.
Officials who spoke on Monday morning say this vaccination site is exciting because of the diverse group of people it will be able to reach.
"We want people to be able to access this site readily whether they're walking, biking, taking the bus and as [Maine DHHS] Commissioner [Jeanne] Lambrew mentioned, communities of folks we worry might not otherwise have access to a site,” Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said. “We're so thrilled to be able to offer this site in a densely populated region.”
Mercy Hospital has put together videos in different languages so if someone comes in who doesn't speak English, they will still be able to see what the process looks like and get vaccinated. Officials say they hope to get as many people vaccinated as possible and this week's appointments are already full.
As of now, folks getting vaccinated at the Portland Expo will receive the Pfizer vaccine.
Northern Light Health says people will need to register for an appointment ahead of time. Registration is open now for those eligible via online registration or by calling the Northern Light Health call center at 207-204-8551.
NEWS CENTER Maine viewers told us the vaccine wait times were extensive. Northern Light Health responded to that in a statement.
We did expect high traffic on this first full day that Mainers age 60 and over were able to register for vaccine. In anticipation of this we added a third-party vendor’s virtual waiting room tool to the front-end of our site. This tool was designed to help keep our vaccine registration web site from slowing or shutting down due to what we knew would be a large volume of traffic, again with this being the first full day that those who are 60 and above could schedule vaccination appointments.
The virtual waiting area functioned as we expected in that it balanced the load of traffic flowing on to our web site. Unfortunately, the wait estimator was incorrect and caused many people to receive bogus, lengthy estimations of wait time. We disabled the wait time estimator and are now working with the vendor to troubleshoot what happened. We expect a solution to this issue before the next round of appointment registrations.
The virtual waiting room was added based on prior weeks’ experience when large volumes of traffic caused the vaccine appointment registration site to either perform too slowly or shut down altogether. This feature was expected to provide reassurance and instead caused confusion for some, For that we apologize. We are working now with our vendor to ensure the wait estimator is either fixed or disabled for the next round of vaccine registrations. Above all, we thank people for their patience and understanding and remain pleased that so many Maine people are anxious to receive vaccine for COVID-19.
While most new appointments are released on Mondays, some may also become available on Wednesdays. People with appointments should show up no more than 10 minutes prior to their scheduled time to reduce the potential for lines outside the facility, especially during these colder winter months.