Young Mainers eager for a COVID-19 vaccine have obtained it by contacting local pharmacies directly for additional doses, even though the state’s general adult population will not be eligible for vaccines for nearly another month.
The practice is blessed by Maine health officials, who are advising providers to first administer leftover vaccines to eligible individuals, but say the most important thing is that no doses go unused. Those over 50 became eligible on Tuesday. Teachers and child care providers are also eligible. Maine is one of the few states that hasn’t prioritized younger people with pre-existing health conditions and will open vaccines to all adults on April 19.
To avoid wasting doses, some of Maine’s more than 150 vaccine suppliers, including some Walmart and Walgreens locations, have accepted last-minute appointments from Mainers under 50 or resorted to so-called “waste lists.” or lists of people they can call. at the last minute to prevent vaccines from being wasted.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was “nothing wrong” with pharmacies administering vaccines to Mainers youth if doses were to expire and there were no eligible people to give them to. Maine’s vaccination policy requires ensuring that every dose is used “even if it means occasional deviations” from the state plan, according to a Maine CDC document.
“As a result of that, we’ve had very, very few doses in Maine that have not been used,” Shah said.
It’s unclear how common the practice is, but a Bangor Daily News reporter called 10 retail pharmacies Tuesday morning to ask if a person who is not eligible for a vaccine based on state criteria would be able to get an appointment. One offered a date. Four said they did not have any available, but could do so later or offered places on a waiting list. Five others said they weren’t offering appointments or places on a list.
Individual pharmacies are generally vaccinating fewer people each day than larger hospitals. They may end up with extra doses if appointments are canceled or if they host a clinic that targets a specific population, such as a nursing home, and fewer people want vaccinations than expected.
A spokesperson for Northern Light Health, which operates nearly a dozen clinics, including the mass vaccination site at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, said the hospital system rarely has more than two or three doses at the end of each day. Additional doses are offered to site volunteers based on age.
Because Maine’s vaccination system has been largely based on age, two-thirds of people 60 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Shah said Tuesday. More than 590,000 doses have been administered in total. Those under 50 can also pre-register on a new state website or by contacting some hospitals.