A certified nursing assistant who works with cancer patients and an ER doctor were the first workers at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor to receive shots in the arm conferring immunity against the coronavirus on Wednesday morning.

EMMC on Wednesday joined the handful of Maine hospitals that are starting to inoculate their frontline workers as the pandemic rages on. The Bangor hospital began vaccinating staff members at 6:30 am, and more than 125 workers had received the shots by early afternoon, according to Dr. James Jarvis, who is helping lead the COVID-19 response for EMMC’s parent group, Northern Light Health.

Across the state, about 475 Maine hospital employees had received vaccination doses as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, said Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Jarvis celebrated the milestone during a news conference on Wednesday, he also made sure to note that record numbers of coronavirus patients are now being treated at Northern Light’s hospitals, including 36 at EMMC and 11 at its affiliate in Portland, Northern Light Mercy Hospital.

In total, the system was treating 64 admitted coronavirus patients and 17 infected home care patients on Wednesday, which is a “tremendous increase” from recent levels, according to Jarvis. “This pandemic isn’t over,” he said, urging continued use of precautions such as face masks and avoiding gatherings with people from outside your household.

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EMMC and Mercy received their first 975 doses each of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Monday and planned to first immunize staff who treat coronavirus patients and any other employees who could be exposed to the virus in their work.

Mercy was expected to begin vaccinating workers on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, according to Jarvis. Another affiliate, Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital in Presque Isle, was expected to start its vaccination clinic on Wednesday evening.

The first vaccinations in Bangor followed shots on Tuesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland and Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford. In Lewiston, Central Maine Medical Center also began immunizing staff on Wednesday and expected to have given 60 shots by the end of the day. In Augusta, MaineGeneral Medical Center had inoculated 167 workers by early Wednesday afternoon and expected to administer the remainder of its first 775 doses by early next week.

Those who receive the shot are due for a second dose in three weeks.

The hospital workers are at the front of the line for the limited supply of vaccine doses that are available as part of the first round of inoculations.

Residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, are next in line, along with people with health conditions that put them at significantly higher risk of COVID-19 complications, according to the state’s vaccination plan.

Shah said Wednesday that essential workers would be the state’s focus for the subsequent round of vaccinations, including teachers, food processing workers, grocery store employees, bus drivers and mail carriers.

Many of those workers are low-income and belong to minority groups, which have been disproportionately represented among those who have tested positive for COVID-19, Shah said.

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“So, by putting them right after health care workers, we hope to be able to, again, keep everyone who is the most at risk vaccinated,” Shah said at a meeting of the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations.

That group could represent up to 25 percent of Maine’s population, he said, and vaccinating them could take several months.

It would likely be the summer before Mainers without health problems who aren’t considered essential workers could start to be immunized, he said. Many essential workers wouldn’t be able to get vaccinated until the spring.

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