Maine’s making good progress on preventing the spread of COVID-19, there’s no question about that. The number of new cases, number of people in the hospital with COVID, the rate of people dying with COVID, those are all decreasing. At the same time, the number of vaccines we have administered is increasing – one day this week alone we administered over 10,000 doses, the highest number in a single day to date.
Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.
We are ramping up our efforts to deploy every dose of vaccine we get as quickly as possible to reach people in every corner of our state — last week we partnered with Scarborough Downs to open a large community vaccination site, and the new site at Bangor’s Cross Center is up and running and this week we partnered with 24 private pharmacies beginning to vaccinate people all across the state.
That progress is important, but this process sure is complicated. Maine is undertaking the greatest logistical challenge in generations.
The success of this effort depends on so many factors, including things outside our control.
The limited number of vaccines we get from the federal government; the ultra-cold storage necessary for the Pfizer vaccine; the two dose regimen for both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines; Maine’s unique demographics – our much higher percentage of older people and people with underlying medical conditions as well as our far flung rural communities, our dispersed population — these are all challenges we are dealing with.
Because of those issues and because of the limited supply of vaccine we focused first on vaccinating Maine’s health care, public safety, and critical COVID-19 responders — the people on the frontlines of the coronavirus battle; we next focused on protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens, not those whose professions simply bring them into contact with the public, but those people who are most likely to suffer and die if they do contract COVID-19 — that means, statistically, people age 70 and older.
There are nearly 200,000 people aged 70 and older in Maine and to date, only 71,000 of them have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. We are about a third of the way there, just in the first doses administered for that particular vulnerable population.
Late last year, the U.S. CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued a document that recommended that states vaccinate quote “frontline essential workers” with older adults after health care workers.
We’ve gotten hundreds, if not thousands, of questions from Maine people from all professions asking if they will be deemed “essential workers” and if so, when they will be able to get the vaccine.
Well, first, we still have nearly a hundred and thirty thousand people over the age of 70 who are waiting for their vaccine. Next week we will be getting about 22,000 doses from the federal government. At this rate, it will take several weeks just to reach the next phase of our vaccine distribution plan and believe me no decisions have been made regarding who that phase might include.
And things may well change between now and then, for better or for worse. New vaccines may become available, ones that are easier to store and distribute, our supply of existing vaccines from the federal government may change, or the rate of transmission, hospitalizations or deaths in Maine could shift, particularly with the new, more contagious variants of the virus appearing in our state.
This is a race against time.
People are eager to know who will be in the next phase of our vaccine distribution plan. But it would be premature to make that decision today. Things are likely to change before we are ready to implement the next phase.
Secondly, I have said it before, but I will say it again — everyone in this state is essential. There’s no one who’s not essential in my view. Right now, we are targeting our limited supply of vaccine to save the most lives, but every single person in Maine is a priority. You are all my priority.
Course the uncertainty around vaccines is definitely frustrating, but I will always be honest with you about the hurdles we are facing and what we’re doing to get around them.
As you await your vaccine, please keep the faith. You will be vaccinated; it is just a matter of time.
And to those who have been vaccinated and those who are still waiting, please stay safe. Take the steps we know will keep us all healthy – wear your mask, watch your distance, wash your hands and avoid gatherings.
Speaking of gatherings, next week is February school vacation. I know people will be tempted to organize social occasions with friends and family during this time, but please remember COVID-19 is not taking a vacation.
So find fun things to do safely, especially outdoors like hiking, snowshoeing, skiing or ice fishing. This week I signed an Executive Order to create a free fishing week from Saturday, February 13 to Sunday February 21. Just register online at mefishwildlife.com/icefishing and fish for free without a license on Maine’s waterways. Of course bag limits, and other rules and regulations, apply.
I hope to see you out on the ice next week.
This is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.