State health officials Monday ordered the Walgreens pharmacy chain to send almost 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses it had no immediate plans to administer to two Lewiston hospitals that needed to vaccinate more health care providers.
The 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be sent to Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center after Walgreens confirmed that the pharmacy had not yet scheduled vaccinations at long-term care facilities with those doses, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson, Robert Long.
Walgreens and CVS are administering vaccines at long-term care facilities across the country under an arrangement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been especially hard hit by COVID-19, and their residents account for a majority of Maine’s COVID-19 deaths.
More than 4,000 residents and staff at Maine long-term care facilities had been vaccinated under the arrangement as of a few days ago, said Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah. But Shah said he was concerned about the speed of that vaccine rollout, and asked both pharmacies if they had excess doses on hand and what their plans were for using them.
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Walgreens “did in fact have doses on hand, and they could not tell us when they indicated that they would put them into arms. That didn’t work for me,” Shah said. “That’s a tough call to make, but I am prepared, and we’ll continue to do that if we don’t see that pace increase going forward.”
Walgreens representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
Across the country, there have been reports of millions of vaccines “sitting on shelves” because of a slow rollout. But Shah said that’s not the case in Maine for the vaccine doses for which the Maine CDC controls the distribution. As of early Monday morning, Shah said, 93 percent of vaccine doses that had come to the state had been used.
“In Maine, doses are not sitting on the shelves,” he said. “Doses come in and are allocated directly to hospitals. And we have worked with them to get them into arms as quickly as possible.”
More than 55,000 shots had been given as of Monday, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard. Nearly 50,000 of those were first shots; the remainder were booster shots.