AUGUSTA — At an Oct. 20 press briefing, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said next week an advisory group for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will discuss authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. 

The week after that, the U.S. CDC will meet to talk about the same data and potentially offer clinical recommendations on whether children age 5 to 11 should get the Pfizer shot.

Shah said the state has already been preparing to roll out vaccines for children in this age group, if and when they are authorized by federal health officials. 

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has been working closely with the Department of Education, as well as school districts across the state, to plan and prepare for the possible arrival of the Pfizer vaccine for children in this age group.

The state is focusing its support, he said, on offering as many channels as possible to get children vaccinated. It has been setting up clinics at schools and working with commercial pharmacies, hospitals or doctors and pediatricians, with the hope of making the vaccine as widely available as possible.

Shah said two large-scale vaccination operations remain open: a clinic operated by York County Emergency Management Agency in Sanford and one operated by Central Maine Healthcare at the Auburn Mall. Both clinics will offer the Pfizer vaccines to children 5 to 11.

The FDA convened last week after discussing Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots and currently the U.S. CDC is meeting to decide on whether to sign off on these vaccine boosters. 

If approved, the J&J vaccine would be recommended for anyone over 18, while the Moderna booster would be similar to the Pfizer recommendations, for people 65 and over, those with pre-existing health conditions or those whose work puts them at higher risk of contracting the virus.

When asked his thoughts on mixing and matching vaccines, Shah said, “Personally it’s something I’m in favor of, but until federal officials sign off on it — and we know it’s being considered — there’s not much more we can do.”

Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Department of Health and Human Services said health care workers are complying with the state’s vaccination requirement in increasing numbers.

Teacher and staff vaccination rates for the month of September have just been updated, she said, with an overall average rate of 79.7% statewide. “We are encouraged by the progress that has been made,” she said.

Cumberland County continues to lead the state and Waldo County, which had the lowest vaccination rate among the state’s counties previously, went from 61% to 86%.

Regarding vaccinations for children 5 to 11, Lambrew said it was her department’s goal to get children their first shot in November and have the final dose administered during Christmas break.

Shah said Maine CDC reported seven additional deaths in Maine because of COVID-19. Three were from Cumberland County, two from Franklin County, one from Kennebec County and one from York County. Five were women and two were men; one was in their 60s, while six were in their 70s.

The agency reported 649 new COVID-19 cases statewide, with 199 people currently in the hospital. Two weeks ago, Shah said, 166 people were in the hospital, which represents a 20% increase. 

At this time, 68 people are in intensive care units, while two weeks ago there were 51 people in ICUs; 34 people are now on ventilators compared to 21 people two weeks ago. The positivity rate rose to 5.3% from 4.3% two weeks ago. The testing volume remained steady at 505 for every 100,000 people in the state. 

Concerning vaccinations, Shah said the state is administering a total of 3,900 shots in arms per day, including 588 first doses, 1,180 second or final doses and 2,140 booster shots. The proportion of the state now fully vaccinated is just under 70%, with 75.5% having had at least one dose.

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