GORHAM — Diana and Doug Crosby rolled up their sleeves at Community Pharmacies to be one of the first recipients of the novel COVID-19 booster injection, an ommicron targeting formula that is the latest vaccine approved to fight the coronavirus pandemic to fight.
Diana Crosby, a retired teacher at Gorham Elementary, said that as soon as she heard about the booster, she knew she and her husband wanted the extra protection.
“Here we are,” she said with a smile.
The first doses of the new vaccines began arriving in Maine Friday, although supplies have been limited so far. Medical providers and pharmacies expect more appointments to open starting next week as supplies increase.
Chris Guido, pharmacy manager at Community Pharmacies’ Gorham location, said the pharmacy had about 15 appointments on Thursday and will accelerate the pace next week.
A number of appointments have also become available at national pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens this week. Next week, routine vaccinations will be provided at healthcare networks such as MaineHealth and Northern Light Health.
Intermed, a primary care provider with offices in greater Portland, informed its patients Thursday it had no more available appointments. “We are sorry that we are unable to schedule new appointments due to the extremely limited stock we have received,” the message reads. It advised patients to seek the vaccine from pharmacies, which receive doses through a separate federal distribution program.
Crosby was pleased to learn that the booster will target the ommicron strain of the virus, which has become the dominant strain since last winter. Currently, omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are the most circulating strains, and the booster injection will provide good protection, especially against severe illness, hospitalization and death, scientists say.
“I have to believe in the scientists in this world,” Crosby said. “Who else are we going to believe?”
The Crosbys have now received five doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including the first two in the first series, followed by two booster shots of the original vaccines.
Patients seeking the new booster must have received the first vaccination, whether it was one or two injections, but they do not need to have received previous booster vaccinations.
As long as it has been at least two months since their last vaccination, anyone 12 years and older is eligible for the new Pfizer booster, while 18 years and older can get the Moderna version.
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine is expected to receive 80,500 doses of the new booster between this week and next week. More than 170 million doses will be available nationwide this fall and winter, according to Biden’s administration.
John Porter, spokesperson for MaineHealth, the nonprofit that operates the Maine Medical Center in Portland, several other Maine hospitals and numerous outpatient clinics, said it received a limited supply of the vaccine this week and that it was mainly going to hospital patients. The general public could start scheduling appointments on Thursday for slots to open next week.
“We’re getting supplies in and starting to ramp up,” Porter said.
Karen Cashman, spokeswoman for Northern Light Health, the parent organization of Eastern Maine Medical Center at Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, said it expects vaccine supplies this week and begins scheduling appointments next week.
It’s not clear how many people have received the new booster shots in Maine so far.
Official Maine CDC statistics report 254 booster doses on Tuesday and 330 doses on Wednesday, although boosters administered in the past few days may not show up in the state tally until later this week. The state averaged about 500 boosters per day at the end of August, before the new vaccine was available.
MOVE TO ANNUAL BOOSTER
“The daily change in booster totals this week is lower, due to the holiday weekend, a delay caused by the change in authorization of (previous formulation to updated omicron-targeting) vaccines for boosters, and the time it takes some clinics to make adjustments. needed to offer the (new) boosters,” said Robert Long, CDC spokesperson in Maine.
Community Pharmacies operations manager Amelia Arnold expects to be able to keep up with demand based on the initial response after the federal government gave final approval to the boosters last week.
“We’re seeing a fair amount of demand,” Arnold said. “But unlike previous COVID vaccines, we’re seeing people plan more to get this booster, rather than get it available at first. The mindset is shifting towards more like the approach people take with the flu shot where you plan to get it in a time frame when it’s more convenient.
Patients can receive the COVID-19 booster shot and a seasonal flu shot at the same time in most locations if they wish.
In fact, the new booster is seen as the start of a new strategy to fight COVID-19, much like annual vaccines are used to fight flu. Federal officials now plan to release updated footage each fall that is formulated to defend against the prevailing strain of the virus.
“This week we are entering a new phase in our COVID-19 response,” President Biden said in a written statement on Tuesday. “We are launching a new vaccine – our first in nearly two years – with a new approach. For most Americans, that means one COVID-19 shot, once a year, every fall.”
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