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MaineHealth administers first doses of vaccine

PORTLAND – MaineHealth, the region’s largest integrated health system, administered the first vaccinations for COVID-19 to its front-line caregivers last week.

Kayla Mitchell, RN, BSN, became the first care team member at MaineHealth to receive the vaccine. Mitchell is a nurse who treats COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center.
“I’m excited to be able to be a part of the solution and make the community a safer place at this critical moment,” said Mitchell after receiving the vaccine. “I’ve watched people suffer with this illness. I trust the science, and I trust that this is a solution.”

Mitchell was one of 150 MaineHealth caregivers scheduled to be vaccinated at Maine Medical Center in Portland and Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford. Vaccinations were start at a third MaineHealth hospital, Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick, later in the week. Those three southern Maine hospitals have treated the most COVID-19 patients during the pandemic within MaineHealth and were prioritized for the first doses for that reason.

MaineHealth is set to receive an initial allotment of 1,900 doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer during the first week of distribution. Initially, distribution will focus on Intensive Care Unit teams, front-line Emergency Department caregivers, those providing care in dedicated COVID-19 inpatient units and other critical and essential inpatient services not available elsewhere.

A second vaccine, made by Moderna, was approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration’s expert panel on Thursday. MaineHealth
was expecting another 15,775 doses to arrive beginning the week of Dec.
21, including another 975 Pfizer doses with the balance from Moderna. That
will be enough vaccine to inoculate all of MaineHealth’s direct caregivers.

“By having our care team protected against COVID-19, we can better assure that we will be ready to treat, not just those suffering with COVID, but everyone who needs care during this time,” said Dr. Dora Mills, MD, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer.

Several weeks ago, MaineHealth formed a systemwide task force with
clinicians from all nine of its local health systems to oversee distribution of the vaccine among its frontline caregivers. The task force has been working to set up vaccine clinics across the system in an effort to vaccinate care team members as quickly as possible.

It will take several weeks to vaccinate all eligible team members across the system. While the logistics of storing and transporting the vaccines require planning given that the Pfizer product requires ultra-cold storage and the
Moderna vaccine also has to be frozen, the biggest hurdle to overcome is finding doctors and nurses to staff the vaccine clinics.

MaineHealth has been actively recruiting staff for the clinics for several weeks. Among those recruited to provide vaccinations are retired doctors and nurses who have volunteered to help in the effort.

“It’s a credit to our teams across the system that they were able to come together so quickly and get shots in arms within hours of the arrival of the vaccine,” said Mills. “This effort speaks to how critically important this vaccine is to maintaining our readiness to help our communities through this pandemic.”

Mills noted that vaccinations will not diminish the need to take precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Within MaineHealth, all safety measures will remain in place, including the use of personal protective equipment, extra cleaning of surfaces, segregation of patients known or suspected of having COVID-19 and daily screening for symptoms of all employees.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” said Mills. “With vaccines not expected to become widely available to the public until spring or early summer, we still have a very dangerous winter to get through.”

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