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Maine's rural, western counties have highest COVID-19 infection rates, lowest vaccination rates

Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, and Androscoggin are four of Maine's five least vaccinated counties. Those are also the top four in the state for new infections.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows the highest rates of new COVID-19 infection are in counties with the lowest percentage of people vaccinated.

Doctors in western and rural Maine are watching their hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients. 

Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, and Androscoggin are four out of Maine's five least vaccinated counties. Those are also the top four in the state for new infections.

"We are seeing the results of not having more people vaccinated," said Lisa Caswell, director of pharmacy at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan. "We have a high rate of infection in Somerset County. It's spreading easily right now and we need to get people vaccinated to prevent that."

Data from the Maine CDC show just over 56% of all people in Somerset County are vaccinated against the virus. That means another 44% are not fully vaccinated. Of that unvaccinated population, 4.7% are kids under age 5 who are not eligible to get the shot yet.

"The vast majority of the population is eligible for vaccine, and I want them to get it. That's the only way out of this," said Caswell.

Public health leaders say that until more people get the vaccine, we can expect to see more people get sick. Unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to end up in the hospital, according to the CDC.

"To this day, even with this large number of people in hospital beds, almost all the people in critical care and on ventilators are unvaccinated," said Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew during Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing. "We have the tools. We have one important tool that can keep people safe which is to get vaccinated."

Caswell said she hears one common piece of misinformation from people in her county about getting the vaccine.

"That they don't need it. That they're young and have a good immune system," said Caswell. "My hospital is full of young people with good immune systems right now."

Caswell said Redington-Fairview General Hospital hosts a clinic every Thursday from 3-5 p.m. at the New Balance Factory in Skowhegan.

A public clinic for those ages 5-17 is scheduled for 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Friday at Skowhegan Family Medicine on the hospital campus. You can sign up at RFGH.net.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Maine CDC adjusted data that it said had been improperly recorded, which changed many of the totals mentioned in Thursday night's report.

Here is the statement from the Maine CDC:

The Maine Immunization Program regularly works with vaccine providers to validate information for the dashboard. As part of that process, today’s dashboard update reflects a reclassification of approximately 37,000 doses from the Final Dose category to the Additional/Booster dose category. In the days immediately following U.S. CDC authorization of boosters, some Maine vaccine clinics recorded them as final doses. Today’s dashboard update reflects a correction of those actions.