Kayla Mitchell, a registered nurse at Maine Medical Center becomes the first to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Courtesy of MaineHealth

The state’s largest hospital administered one of Maine’s first COVID-19 vaccine doses Tuesday morning, joining in on nationwide efforts to inoculate frontline health care workers against COVID-19.

At Maine Medical Center, Kayla Mitchell, a registered nurse, became the first person at MaineHealth to receive the vaccine. Mitchell treats COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Portland hospital.

MaineHealth administered its first vaccine almost exactly 24 hours after a nurse from Queens, New York, was given the nation’s first non-clinical trial dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday. Across the country, health care providers are receiving the vaccine after months of being on the frontlines of the pandemic that has caused more than 300,000 deaths nationwide.

Mitchell is one of 150 MaineHealth frontline workers scheduled to be vaccinated Tuesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland and Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, according to MaineHealth.

“I’m excited to be able to be a part of the solution and make the community a safer place at this critical moment,” Mitchell said after receiving the vaccine. “I’ve watched people suffer with this illness. I trust the science, and I trust that this is a solution.”

Overall, MaineHealth will receive 1,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine during the first week of distribution. It will be administered to intensive care unit teams, front-line emergency caregivers, those providing care in COVID-19 inpatient units and other critical and essential inpatient services not available elsewhere, according to MaineHealth.

On Wednesday, vaccinations will start at a third MaineHealth hospital, Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick. The three southern Maine hospitals have had the largest numbers of COVID-19 patients within MaineHealth during the pandemic, which is why they were prioritized to receive the first doses.

The second COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna was declared safe by the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday. It will face review by the expert panel later this week, and is expected to be authorized for use.

MaineHealth is expecting another 15,775 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive next week pending authorization. The health care system will also receive another 975 Pfizer doses with the balance coming from Moderna. Those combined will be enough to inoculate all of MaineHealth’s direct caregivers, although the effort to vaccinate all eligible people across the system will span weeks.

“By having our care team protected against COVID-19, we can better assure that we will be ready to treat, not just those suffering with COVID, but everyone who needs care during this time,” said Dora Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer.

Vaccinations will not diminish the need to take precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Mills said. All safety measures will remain in place, including the use of personal protective equipment, extra cleaning of surfaces, segregation of patients known or suspected of having COVID-19 and daily screening for symptoms of all employees.

“Now is not the time to let our guard up,” she said. “With vaccines not expected to become widely available to the public until spring or early summer, we still have a very dangerous winter to get through.”

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