Some appointments were available this week and more are expected to open up next week as the state's supply grows.
Chris Guido, the pharmacy manager at Community Pharmacy in Gorham, gives a dose of the new omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccine to Doug Crosby of Gorham on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
GORHAM — Diana and Doug Crosby rolled up their sleeves at Community Pharmacies to be among the first recipients of the new COVID-19 booster shot, an omicron-targeting formula that is the latest vaccine approved to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Diana Crosby, a retired Gorham elementary school teacher, said that as soon as she heard about the booster she knew that she and her husband wanted the added protection.
“Here we are,” she said with a smile.
The first doses of the new vaccines began arriving in Maine on Friday, although supplies have been limited so far. Medical providers and pharmacies expect more appointments to open up starting next week as supplies ramp up.
Chris Guido, pharmacy manager at the Gorham location of Community Pharmacies, said the pharmacy was doing about 15 appointments on Thursday and will accelerate the pace next week.
Some appointments also have been available this week at national pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens. Next week, routine vaccinations will be provided at health care networks such as MaineHealth and Northern Light Health.
Intermed, a primary care provider with offices in greater Portland, notified its patients Thursday that it had no more available appointments. “We are sorry that we are unable to schedule new appointments given the extremely limited supply we received,” the notice said. It advised patients to seek the vaccine at pharmacies, which receive doses through a separate federal distribution program.
Crosby was pleased to hear that the booster will target the omicron strain of the virus, which has taken over as the dominant strain since last winter. Currently, omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are the most widely circulating strains, and the booster shot will offer good protection, especially against severe disease, hospitalization and death, scientists say.
“I have to believe in the scientists in this world,” Crosby said. “Who else are we going to believe?”
Chris Guido, the pharmacy manager at Community Pharmacy in Gorham, gives a dose of the new omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccine to Diana Crosby of Gorham on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
The Crosbys have now received five doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including the first two in the initial series, followed by two booster shots of the original vaccines.
Patients seeking the new booster need to have received the initial vaccination, whether it was one shot or two, but they do not need to have received previous booster shots.
As long as it has been at least two months since their last vaccine shot, everyone 12 and older is eligible for the new Pfizer booster, while those 18 and older can receive the Moderna version.
Maine is expected to receive 80,500 doses of the new booster between this week and next week, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, more than 170 million doses will be available this fall and winter, according to the Biden administration.
Chris Guido, the pharmacy manager at Community Pharmacy in Gorham, prepares the new omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccine for a patient . Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, the nonprofit operating Maine Medical Center in Portland, several other Maine hospitals and numerous outpatient clinics, said it received a limited supply of the vaccine this week and it mostly went to in-patients. The general public could begin scheduling appointments on Thursday for slots that will open up next week.
“We are getting the supplies in, and starting to ramp up,” Porter said.
Karen Cashman, spokeswoman for Northern Light Health, the parent organization of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, said it expects to receive vaccine supplies this week and begin scheduling appointments next week.
It’s not clear how many people have received the new booster shots in Maine so far.
Official Maine CDC statistics report 254 booster doses on Tuesday, and 330 doses on Wednesday, although boosters administered in recent days may not show up in the state’s count until later this week. The state was averaging about 500 boosters per day in late August, before the new vaccine was available.
MOVE TOWARD ANNUAL BOOSTER
“The daily change in booster totals this week is lower, reflecting the holiday weekend, a lag caused by the change of authorization from (previous formulation to updated omicron-targeting) vaccines for boosters, and the time it takes for some clinics to make adjustments needed to offer the (new) boosters,” said Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman.
Supplies of the new omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccine are ramping up in Maine. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
Amelia Arnold, Community Pharmacies operations manager, expects to be able to keep up with the demand based on the initial response after the federal government gave final approval to the boosters last week.
“We are seeing a fair amount of demand,” Arnold said. “But unlike previous COVID vaccines, we are seeing people do more planning to get this booster, rather than getting it at the first moment available. The mindset is shifting to more like the approach people take with the flu shot, where you plan to get it in a timeframe when it’s more convenient.”
Patients, if they wish, can get the COVID-19 booster shot and a seasonal flu shot at the same time in most locations.
In fact, the new booster is seen as the start of a new strategy to fight COVID-19 like annual vaccines are used to fight influenza. Federal officials now plan to provide updated shots each fall that are formulated to defend against the prevailing variant of the virus.
“This week, we begin a new phase in our COVID-19 response,” President Biden said in a written statement Tuesday. “We are launching a new vaccine – our first in almost two years – with a new approach. For most Americans, that means one COVID-19 shot, once a year, each fall.”
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