AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills signaled on Tuesday that she would accept a new set of federal guidelines that would move older and vulnerable Mainers up in the state’s coronavirus vaccination program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines Tuesday that encouraged states to move anyone 65 or older as well as those with pre-existing conditions into a current phase reserved largely for health care workers and those working or living in long-term care facilities. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s administration has also promised to release second doses of the vaccines rather than holding them in reserve for the boosters.
The change in strategy has been considered for weeks, and Maine health officials have mostly declined to speculate on what the state would do if it occured. But Mills said in a Tuesday news release that it was “appropriate” for the first vaccines to go to older residents and that she would be announcing updates to the plan soon.
Maine is the oldest state in the nation by median age. It also has among the largest share among states of people with health conditions making them vulnerable to COVID-19. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found 42.5 percent of Maine adults — 60 percent of those over 65 and 23 percent of younger adults — would be at risk of serious illness if they contracted the virus.
There could be logical implications to the change. Maine, like many states, has prioritized health care workers, long-term care facility residents and emergency medical service workers for its first doses. Those groups are largely getting vaccinated at their places of work or residence, making it easier to vaccinate them than other Mainers who would have to set up appointments.
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah has said the state will set up large community locations and mobile sites as vaccinations start to reach the general population, but details of those plans are not yet finalized.
Both vaccines also require cold storage, although Pfizer’s requires ultra-chilly freezers only hospitals, some universities and the state typically have.
Maine has been among the leading states in vaccine distribution, with only four states distributing more doses per capita. State health officials recently commandeered vaccines that Walgreens, one of the two large pharmacy chains in charge of the long-term care vaccination program across the country, had no immediate plan to use to give them to hospitals.