AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine will extend eligibility for coronavirus vaccination to approximately 200,000 more residents between the ages of 60 and 69 beginning Wednesday and then change the prioritization to be based on age alone, Gov. Janet Mills said Friday.
Mainers age 50 and older will be eligible in April, 40 and over in May, 30 and over in June, and younger Mainers after that. That age-based system replaces an earlier plan to prioritize adults with underlying conditions, as well as some frontline workers after Mainers age 70 and older who are currently eligible, and would be the only ones in the country exactly the same.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that the shift to an age-based approach was based on data suggesting that age, even more so than serious underlying medical conditions, was the predictor. stronger from a serious illness. Ninety-eight percent of virus deaths in Maine occur in people over the age of 50, he noted. Maine is the oldest state in the nation by median age.
“We found that the data continued to point to age as a strong indicator of death or severity of illness,” Shah said.
The change would also make it easier for the state to administer additional vaccines quickly, citing concerns that occupation-based categories would take longer to verify, Mill said. The Democratic governor noted that vaccines could be rolled out to Main’s younger residents sooner if the state capacity continues to increase.
“Replacing the perspective of complicated eligibility rules like those based on your type of work, or specific medical conditions, the verification that I am very concerned about will be difficult to implement and could inadvertently slow down the process,” Mills said.
Maine will also establish specific vaccine clinics for K-12 teachers, said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. But there is no other priority for teachers or other new occupations. They can only get vaccinated if they are age eligible.
The change to an age-based system sets Maine apart. No other state has gone to one after vaccinating nursing home residents and certain essential workers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research organization. California announced a change to an age-based system in late January, but it backed off, allowing adults with certain health conditions to be vaccinated alongside older people, CalMatters reported.
However, some states have adopted similar approaches. Connecticut is primarily using age-based criteria, Governor Ned Lamont announced last week, but is also vaccinating K-12 teachers and child care workers. Rhode Island is not prioritizing frontline workers other than healthcare workers and first responders, but plans to vaccinate adults with certain pre-existing conditions after those over 60 are vaccinated.
Mills acknowledged that Maine’s plan differs from other states, but argued that the approach “will benefit most of the people named above,” given the state’s larger population. Maine has the oldest median age of any U.S. state, roughly seven years older than the national median age.
The change in prioritization comes a day after the state announced a substantial increase in its weekly federal government vaccine allocation, and as US regulators consider approving a new single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. That could speed up the process.
As of Friday, more than 217,000 Mainers had received the first doses of the vaccine, while 110,000 had received the second doses. The initial state launch targeted nursing home residents, healthcare workers, first responders and other workers deemed crucial to the state’s response to the virus. Maine rolled out vaccinations to residents age 70 and older in mid-January, and has now vaccinated more than 60 percent of people older than that age, Mills noted Friday.
Northern Light Health, based in Bangor, the second largest health system in the state, was already offering appointments for people over 60 on Friday afternoon.