With COVID-19 Vaccination Gaps Widening, Maine Has ‘More Work to Do’ in Rural Areas

Rural Maine counties continue to lag behind more populous areas in COVID-19 vaccinations, with boosters accounting for the bulk of injections given in recent days, leading the state to say it must do more in more remote areas.

Global vaccine uptake has resumed in recent weeks amid an increase in statewide cases and fears about the new variant of omicron, with nearly 90,000 booster shots and 25,000 new firsts doses administered since early December, according to state and federal data.

But wide geographic disparities persist, with rural counties seeing the highest rates of COVID-19 cases losing ground in highly vaccinated areas in recent times. While different attitudes about the vaccine may play some role, access has also been more limited in rural areas, which state health officials say they are trying to resolve.

“We have more work to do in rural counties,” Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday. “It is essential.”

Maine continues to maintain one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States, with more than 80 percent of people receiving at least one dose. Rates vary widely and correlate with infection rates.

On Thursday, the four counties in Maine with the lowest seven-day case rates – Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc – were also the four counties with the highest proportions of their fully vaccinated populations. More than 90 percent of eligible beneficiaries in Cumberland County have received the vaccine, according to federal data, compared to just under 64 percent in Somerset County, the least vaccinated in Maine. This gap is not narrowing.

Since the beginning of December, more than 6,600 residents of Cumberland County, or about 2.2% of the county’s population, have recently received their first doses of the vaccine. Thirty-six percent of residents have now received a total booster dose. Residents of York and Oxford counties, as well as Cumberland, had the highest rate of shots in the past two weeks.

In contrast, just over 600 residents of Somerset County, or about 1.2% of the county’s population, have recently received the first doses since early December, while only 22% of residents have received a booster dose until late December. ‘now.

There are more opportunities to receive injections in more populous areas of the state right now, especially as pharmacies facing a shortage of workers have reduced their hours. Large-scale clinics offering walk-in injections are currently available in Auburn, Augusta, South Portland and Sanford, while residents of more rural areas largely depend on smaller providers.

At Savage’s Drug, which has pharmacies in Fairfield, Oakland and Unity, workers have been busy primarily giving adult reminders and initial doses to children, the latter being given by pharmacist Shane Savage to parents wanting their children to be. vaccinated before the holidays and play winter sports. He regularly sees up to 60 walk-in appointments a day in Oakland, of which only three or four are adults receiving the first doses.

But Savage said he was also seeing people who were previously reluctant to enter to get the first shots. Some plan to travel for the winter season, but others say they needed more time to feel the vaccine was safe. Some cite the increase in hospitalizations or the illness of a loved one.

He said it was a good sign that attitudes might change, although he also believes there is a grassroots group who will never get vaccinated as well. Interest may not match availability, as large chains have struggled due to a staff shortage, he thought.

“Attitudes are much better than they were a year ago,” Savage said.

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