Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 22, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, January 21, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, January 21, 2021
Mainers over 70 starting to get the vaccine
Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital giving shots
by Leslie Landrigan
Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital and other Maine health centers began giving the COVID-19 vaccine to patients 70 and older for the first time on January 18, when the state gave the go-ahead for the “1bs” to be vaccinated.
Up until then, the vaccines only went to the “1as”—health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
The news that Mainers 70 and older could get the vaccine came as a surprise, said Anne Schroth, program director for Healthy Peninsula.
“Word is sort of trickling out,” Schroth said in a phone interview. “There was no warning that suddenly it would be available for people 70 and older.”
A strong demand for the vaccine and limited supply means appointment slots fill up quickly, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More people are calling to make appointments than there are people answering phones, he said in a virtual news conference.
There are also far more people than vaccine doses. Maine has 193,000 residents 70 and older, according to Jean Lambrew, director of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. But Maine received only 18,000 doses of the vaccine in its weekly shipment from the federal government on Monday, she said.
Shah said he expects the state to receive about that amount or slightly higher in coming weeks.
A problem with shipments of the Moderna vaccine shrunk the supply even further, Shah said. The vaccine must remain below a certain temperature, but the thermometers on boxes containing about 4,000 doses showed the vaccine had gotten too warm. Whether the vaccine could still be used is being investigated, he said.
By January 19, 81,355 doses of the vaccine had been administered in Maine, including 68,914 first doses and 12,441 second doses, according to the Maine CDC.
The next group to get vaccinated after those 70 and older will be the 65-69 age group, and after that people deemed medically frail. Maine still hasn’t finished vaccinating all the people in the 1a group.
Where to get information
There are two ways people can sign up for a vaccine: either they register by telephone or through the internet, or they receive a call or an email from their health care provider about setting up an appointment. Maine CDC has created a web page with a list of vaccination sites for people 70 and older, along with a phone number or email address for each one. (maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites.)
As of January 19, MDI Hospital was the only vaccination site listed for Hancock County, despite the fact that Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital is vaccinating patients. Shah said the registration system is evolving.
Northern Light Health has put up its own web page for people 70 and older to sign up for an appointment. Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital has also put the link on its Facebook page and emailed it to its patients. The local Northern Light clinics—Northern Light Primary Care in Castine and Island Family Medicine in Stonington—are not vaccinating people.
Town offices such as Sedgwick and Deer Isle are posting the Northern Light link on their home pages, and Sedgwick is even emailing it to its residents. Local nonprofit agencies are also circulating emails about registering, and friends are sending it to friends.
Schroth, for example, sent the Northern Light email to Rene Colson Hudson, Healthy Island Project (HIP) director on January 18. Hudson immediately sent it to a friend over 70 and helped her register.
Hudson said the online registration process wasn’t easy. “The system did work but it took some doing on my part,” she said.“This is not going to be an easy task for our older islanders.”
Many older people don’t have access to a computer, adequate internet service or a printer at home, she said.
People who register also have to have a lot of information in front of them before they start, because the system doesn’t save an incomplete form, Hudson said. That information includes Social Security number, emergency contact numbers, next of kin and health insurance plans, she said.
Hudson managed to get her friend an appointment for February 12, and then another appointment a month later for the second shot. Then she tried to help another friend that same evening, but no more slots were available.
Northern Light recommends that people who can’t get an appointment try again on Monday because that’s when the state receives new shipments of vaccine.
Schroth on January 18 helped her mother get an appointment at Blue Hill Hospital for January 20. She, too, said the registration form can be frustrating. She tried to put in “P.O.,” for example, as an address, but the system would only accept “PO” without periods.
Despite all that, Schroth said the peninsula and islands are ahead of other places in Maine, based on a conference call she had with the Council on Aging. “We’re lucky that we’re up here,” she said. “They haven’t even gone live in some places.”
Hudson said many people 70 and older will need someone to assist them. ”It has to be someone they can trust with their Social Security number,” she said. ”Then they’re going to have to have transportation to Blue Hill.” Driving someone in a car during the pandemic isn’t always easy because of the need to be socially distanced, she said.
“I’m hoping that HIP and other organizations, family members and good neighbors will make a concerted effort to help people get registered,” she said.
If you want to volunteer to help get someone vaccinated, email firstname.lastname@example.org.