In this March 24, 2021, file photo, people stand in line outside a Northern Light Health COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Portland Expo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine is seeing a record of at least 88,000 new first doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week as the supply to retail pharmacies through a federal program jumped nearly 50 percent with the addition of independent pharmacies.

The record allocation comes as Maine is set to allow all residents aged 16 and older to get the vaccine beginning this Wednesday. It also comes as coronavirus cases in Maine have continued to rise despite the state’s mass vaccination efforts, with experts characterizing the next six weeks as a crucial “race against time” as more dangerous variants of the virus continue to spread while the state rolls back economic restrictions.

Maine’s supply of vaccines this week includes more than 34,000 doses for pharmacies through the federal retail pharmacy program, as well as more than 54,000 vaccines allocated to other providers, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Federally Qualified Health Centers will get a smaller allocation through another program.

The increase in supply is largely due to the availability of more one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which amount to 37 percent of the state’s allocation and more than 60 percent of the allocation to retail pharmacies.

Although most of the pharmacy allocations will go to large chains — Walmart, Walgreens, Hannaford, Shaw’s and the newly added CVS — 36 independent pharmacies with locations ranging from Saco to Mars Hill are also expected to receive 2,700 doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week. Independent pharmacies had largely been left out of Maine’s rollout of vaccines to the general public after playing a crucial role in early vaccinations at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

As of Monday, nearly 460,000 Mainers had received first doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, while another 309,000 had received final doses or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Among Mainers aged 50 and older, just over 63 percent have received first doses while 42 percent have received final doses.

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