Hospitals in Maine, including Northern Light Health, are filled with COVID patients, most of them unvaccinated. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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On Wednesday, the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention shared that COVID vaccination rates in the state had increased by 30 percent over the past two weeks.

“Stat of the morning:  #COVID19 vaccination rates in  #Maine are up 30.3% over the past 14 days (measured by doses administered/day),” Dr. Nirav Shah posted on Twitter.

That seemed like great news as the state, and others across the country, battle an upsurge in cases of the sometimes deadly virus.

Then, on Thursday, the Maine CDC reported that there were 624 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since the virus surged in January. Then came Friday’s news: 665 new cases. Not all the new cases were from one day, as the agency has a backlog of COVID tests.

Still, the upward trend in new cases is alarming.

“It is so important right now for people to know that [COVID] is a real disease,” Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 senior physician executive with Northern Light Health told the Bangor Daily News editorial board. He added that people also need to know that Mainers are getting very sick and some are dying from the virus.

But, he added, people need to know that there is a way to avoid the worst consequences of the virus. And that is by getting vaccinated.

The simple message is that any of the three shots is readily available for free across Maine work.

Northern Light illustrated that this week when it released, for the first time, data about COVID hospitalizations in its network.

As of Friday, there were 50 patients hospitalized with COVID in the network’s 10 hospitals. Forty-seven of them were unvaccinated; three were vaccinated. Of these patients, 27 were in the intensive care unit; 26 of them were unvaccinated and only one was vaccinated. Eight of the nine Northern Light COVID patients who are on ventilators were unvaccinated.

The data show that infections in those who have been vaccinated — called breakthrough infections — do occur. But they are generally mild, Jarvis said.

The biggest risk, especially with the more transmissible and virulent delta variant, is that about 30 percent of Maine’s eligible population — generally those over the age of 12 — remain unvaccinated. These people are receptive hosts to the virus, which can then spread to others and mutate into more dangerous variants.

“What we’re seeing now is devastating,” he said. “People are dying. Hospitals are full,” and are struggling to treat patients with other emergencies, such as heart attacks, injuries from car accidents and children with respiratory ailments other than COVID. Other important medical care is also being delayed and staff is stretched as serious COVID cases require two nurses per patient.

We should all do our part to end this situation, which is harming people who have taken every step to avoid COVID.

During a press briefing Thursday, Shah was asked about persistent concerns about side effects from the vaccinations. While no medical intervention is without risk, he reiterated that adverse vaccine reactions remain rare and mostly mild.

“Across the country and across the state, hospitals are filling up with people with COVID-19,” Shah said. “You know what they’re not filling up with? People with adverse reactions to the vaccines.”

There are zero people hospitalized in Maine because of adverse reactions to the vaccines, he said.

The message from Shah and Jarvis is simple: Get vaccinated, avoid large groups and wear a mask indoors in public.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...