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3 things you need to know from the Maine CDC COVID-19 briefing, October 20, 2021

The Maine CDC and DHHS released vaccination rates of EMS workers and school staff on Wednesday.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health and Human Services held its COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, covering a variety of topics with a focus on vaccination rates of people most likely to be exposed to the virus. 

EMS, HEALTH CARE, SCHOOL STAFF

The Maine Department of Public Safety said 97% of EMS staff are fully vaccinated against the virus, listing a report by county that shows what percentage of staff in those counties have gotten the shot.

“Maine’s EMS personnel are some of the best in the world. They are professional, courteous, and will do everything in their power to provide the safest and most effective care possible,” Sam Hurley, Director of Maine EMS wrote in a statement. “These strong vaccination rates further demonstrate this fact and underscore that Maine EMS personnel are committed to protecting the health and safety of those they are charged with caring for.”

Northern Light Health reported Wednesday that 97% of its staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. MaineHealth said 97% of its staff were fully vaccinated as of October 12 and will provide updated data in "early November."

"We're certainly pleased to achieve and surpass the 97% mark as a milestone, and we continue to work toward 100%," Paul Bolin, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, said.

Bolin said staff who get the shot but will become fully vaccinated after the October 29 deadline will be allowed to take paid time off until they reach the necessary time following their final shot.

Bolin said of the remaining three percent, some are changing their minds, and that others have simply procrastinated.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services updated the number of staff vaccinated as well: 79.7% of school staff have received the necessary shots. 70.7% of central office staff are fully vaccinated. Up from 75.6% in the last reporting period in September.

"We are so encouraged by the progress that our school staff, our school leaders have made in vaccination that increase from the end of August to the end of September is larger than the increase in vaccination rate for all adults in Maine, which is progress," Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said.

Cumberland County still leads the state at 91%. Waldo County jumped from the lowest in the state at 61% during the last reporting period to 86%. Piscataquis County is now the lowest in the state at 68%.

STATE PLANNING TO VACCINATE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KIDS

Lambrew and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said they have already laid the groundwork for vaccinating kids ages 5 to 11 if or when the U.S. CDC authorizes Pfizer's shot for that age group.

The plan is in line with the White House plan announced Wednesday and includes vaccine clinics at schools, as well as offering the shots at retail pharmacies, doctors' offices, hospitals, health care clinics, and more.

There are two main advantages to the slightly different shots developed for kids.

  1. It does not need the ultra-cold storage it did in the past and can last in a normal fridge for up to 10 weeks.
  2. Providers will be able to order it in smaller batches.

"Again, both of those changes will make it logistically much easier. And when something becomes logistically easier. It means we can get that much more coverage across the state," Shah said.

"In the next two to three weeks, we expect to hopefully get that approval for the vaccine doses for those younger children. We'll be trying to work with schools on school-based clinics or other sites for those children to have the opportunity to be vaccinated. As a reminder, the whole goal is to get as many of those children with their first shots in early November, so they can get their second shots in time to be fully vaccinated by that winter break around the holidays," Lambrew said. "We are very grateful for our partnerships with our schools. We are excited by the progress we've seen in the school staff vaccination, and we really do look forward to seeing more of a student's vaccination."

MORE VACCINATED PEOPLE BEING HOSPITALIZED

Two weeks ago, roughly 90% of COVID patients were unvaccinated. 

As of Wednesday, that number is closer to 66%, according to the Maine CDC.

Shah said using percentages can be misleading. because the number of total patients in Maine is so small.

"In a much larger group of people, like the percentage of people in Maine who are vaccinated, it'll appear as if it's a growing problem. But the real question here is what's the rate. What's the rate of getting COVID rate if you're vaccinated, versus if you're unvaccinated," Shah said.

The US CDC released new data saying a person who is not vaccinated is 11 times more likely to die from COVID compared to a fully vaccinated person.

Doctors in Maine are urging people who are 65 and older, or 50 and older with an underlying medical condition to get their booster shot as soon as possible.

"Notwithstanding the fact that it's small numbers, it's concerning," Shah said. "Hospitalizations for most folks can largely be avoided if they are fully vaccinated. Do people who are fully vaccinated, get hospitalized, do they get COVID? It does happen, but it's important to note that to this day, about 99.3% of people in Maine, who have been fully vaccinated, have not had COVID, so it's just another testament to how good the vaccines are."

WATCH THE FULL BRIEFING HERE