Thousands of doses of vaccines are rolling into Maine every week as the immunization campaign against COVID-19 accelerates. But it will be a monthslong effort.
Many senior citizens have emailed the Press Herald telling their stories, describing their particular medical concerns and asking questions about vaccinations. Here are answers to some common questions about the vaccination rollout and what to expect in the coming weeks and months. Have other questions? Email them to [email protected].
I’m a senior citizen, when will I get my vaccine?
The short answer is, it’s unclear, but possibly late January or February for those age 75 and older and essential workers. Several states have decided to give older residents a higher priority than essential workers, but Maine hasn’t taken that step and says it hasn’t made a final decision yet.
Expect springtime or later for the vaccine to be widely available to most population groups.
Nursing home residents and staff, front-line healthcare workers, paramedics and EMTs are getting their shots now, under what’s known as Phase 1A. It’s too soon to say when the state will move into the next phase of vaccination. Phase 1B will include those 75 and older and essential workers. The next step, Phase 1C, will include adults age 65-74 and those with high-risk medical conditions. Phase 2 is the general population.
Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, said exactly when the state will move into Phase 1B and subsequent phases depends on how many vaccine doses are sent to the state by the federal government. So far, Maine has been shorted by about 5,000 doses, but Shah said the CDC can’t give precise timelines without knowing how fast the rollout will be in the next two months.
What about those under age 16?
The Pfizer vaccine was approved for ages 16 and older, and the Moderna vaccine for those 18 and older. However, research for those age 12 and older for both vaccines has begun, and for younger children, is expected to begin in early 2021. People in these age groups would already be among the last to receive the vaccine, and it’s unclear how long it will take to complete the research on children and have them approved for a vaccine, but expect it to be well into 2021. However, with both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines having 95 percent effectiveness rates and more vaccines potentially being approved in 2021, case rates, if all goes well, will be declining substantially by late spring or summer, public health experts have said.
I have a condition that weakens my immune system. I have allergies. Should I receive the vaccine?
The U.S. CDC says people with immune conditions should consult with their doctor, but they are eligible to receive the vaccine. Those with allergies can receive the vaccine unless they are allergic to the specific ingredients used in the vaccines. Follow this link for more information.
What is the pace of vaccine delivery to Maine?
By the end of 2020, the Maine CDC anticipates receiving roughly 65,000 doses of the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. That would cover roughly half of the 130,000 people included in Phase 1A, which is focused on front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents.
I’ve heard Maine hasn’t received its full share of COVID vaccines. Why?
This is a national issue attributable to logistical challenges at the federal level. While Maine’s Week 3 allocation of 19,125 doses from the federal government was short just 370 doses, the Week 2 distribution contained 4,875 fewer doses than expected.
Who is getting vaccinated now?
Consistent with federal recommendations, the first vaccines are being administered to staff in hospital emergency departments and COVID wards, first responders, and residents and staff at nursing homes. As the state’s hospital systems (MaineHealth, Northern Light, etc.) move through those ranks, they are expanding vaccinations to other clinicians and staffers who have direct contact with patients.
How many Mainers have been vaccinated so far?
As of Wednesday morning, 23,527 people, slightly less than 2 percent of the Maine population, had received the first shot in the two-shot vaccination regimen, with that number climbing by thousands daily. The second shot, which is necessary for maximum immunity protection, must be administered two to three weeks later.
What about family physicians, specialists, nurses and technicians who routinely see patients but don’t work for hospitals? Are they being vaccinated?
No, most are not. And this is clearly an issue for those independent practitioners. Health care providers who aren’t employed by hospital systems are supposed to be included in Phase 1A of Maine’s vaccine rollout but are on a lower rung than ER doctors, nurses, and nursing home residents and staff.
Maine CDC officials say they hope vaccinations of Maine’s thousands of independent medical professionals will begin by mid-January, but hospital administrators say they are waiting for clearer guidance. In the meantime, hospitals are vaccinating some staff with less exposure to COVID-19 than some primary care doctors or clinicians, particularly in rural areas.
Who will be vaccinated after health care workers?
Mainers age 75 or older and essential front-line workers are next in line for vaccines. Based on federal recommendations, those essential workers include police officers, teachers, postal workers, grocery store employees, public transit workers and people working in daycare settings, as well as food, agricultural and manufacturing workers.
When will that happen? And how will those essential workers or Mainers age 75 or older know when they can get vaccinated?
The timing for the next phase of vaccinations is fluid, but it looks to be late January or early February. Employers will likely notify essential workers, while doctors or other medical providers will be expected to contact patients who are eligible for vaccines based on their age.
I’m 65 years old but in decent health. When will it be my turn for vaccination?
Mainers age 65 to 74 – as well as people age 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions – are currently included in the third phase of vaccinations. Again, the timing of Phase 1C depends heavily on the pace of vaccine production and delivery to states. But as it stands now, Mainers in that 65-to-74 age group will probably have to wait until late winter or early spring for vaccinations.
Why is a healthy, 20-year-old grocery store worker eligible for a vaccine before a 70-year-old, given the risks to older Mainers?
Maine’s vaccination plan is based on guidance from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. And public health officials acknowledge they are trying to maximize the effects of limited, early supplies of vaccines. So while studies clearly show individuals age 65 and older are hospitalized and die of COVID-19 at much higher rates, a 20-something grocery clerk or postal worker who may have the virus and be asymptomatic could interact with dozens of older people during their shift. However, several states have deviated from federal guidelines and given elderly residents a higher priority than essential workers. Maine says it is hasn’t made a final decision on this question.
What about the rest of the population? When can healthier adults under age 65 expect to be vaccinated?
It’s likely going to be awhile – probably summer or even early fall – before there are sufficient supplies for mass inoculation. While federal officials have suggested this could happen by spring (particularly if other vaccines are cleared for mass production/distribution), Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah has said Mainers should be prepared to wait until June, July or even later for mass vaccination.
How will people know when it is their turn?
The granular details have yet to be worked out, but primary care physicians or the health clinics where people receive care will likely play a major role. Also, expect a robust public information campaign around that time and vaccination events at civic centers, fire departments, schools or other public places in order to get as many shots into arms as possible.
Nursing home residents are getting vaccines now. But what about those in assisted-living or group homes?
Vaccinations at assisted-living facilities or among group home residents could begin within weeks, depending on progress vaccinating the top-tier groups.
How do the vaccines work?
The vaccines contain a genetic molecule, known as mRNA, that prompts the body to stimulate the immune system to fight COVID-19. While the vaccine does not contain a live version of the coronavirus that can cause the disease, it should allow your body’s immune system to “remember” or recognize (and fight off) the virus if and when it encounters the real thing.
Will I have to pay to be vaccinated?
Maybe. The federal government is supplying all vaccines for free, regardless of whether individuals have private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or no health coverage. But doctors or other health providers can charge an administration fee for actually injecting the vaccine into your arm, although federal rules also allow them to be reimbursed for that fee by insurers or the government.
Are there side effects to the vaccines?
As with almost any vaccine, people may experience mild side effects such as soreness or swelling at the injection site, body aches or even fever, all of which indicate the body’s immune system is responding as expected to what it views as an invader. There have been rare instances (less than a dozen nationwide as of late December) of more severe reactions.
One of those happened in a health care worker who experienced a severe allergic reaction after being inoculated at Maine Medical Center. The worker was quickly administered a drug to counteract the allergy and has since recovered. Maine CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said some evidence suggests individuals allergic to shellfish, or who have other severe allergies, could be more at risk of a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, but those instances remain rare. That is why individuals should be monitored on site for at least 30 minutes after receiving the shot, Shah said.
Send questions/comments to the editors.