AUBURN — Emery Ouellette, 13, and his mother, Melissa Thompson, of New Gloucester, were among the first in line at the Auburn Mall vaccination clinic Wednesday morning.
“We were definitely ready for this,” said Thompson, who said she took a year off from teaching to support her son, a student at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School who has been learning from home.
Wednesday was the first day Central Maine Healthcare began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to those ages 12 to 15 at their Auburn Mall clinic by appointment only. Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from individuals 16 and older to include children ages 12 to 15.
The Moderna and one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only approved for use in individuals 18 years and older.
“This is an important step forward in our work against COVID,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a media briefing Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, state health officials reported 302 new cases of COVID-19, including 37 in Androscoggin County, 18 in Oxford County and five in Franklin County. There was one additional death.
Androscoggin County’s case rate per 10,000 people remains the highest in the state with 726.1 cases per 10,000 people. Statewide, there are 483.8 cases per 10,000 people.
Vaccines are “our ticket back to normal,” Shah said.
“Given that we have a safe and remarkably effective vaccine, I urge every family to have the conversation about whether and when to get the Pfizer vaccine,” he said.
Clinical trials reviewed by the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the Pfizer vaccine is 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 among those ages 12 to 15.
Dr. Joe Anderson, a pediatric hospitalist at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, said Wednesday that he and his fellow pediatricians are “incredibly excited” about the expanded vaccination eligibility.
Vaccinations can protect against multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a serious complication from COVID-19 found in adolescents.
“One of the more feared complications, which we have seen in our emergency room or (in) patients who present with symptoms that is concerning is that multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which is a complex complication that can occur after COVID, that seems to affect only children,” Anderson said.
Getting shots into youngsters’ arms is about more than their physical health, he added.
“We know that this vaccine not only will protect their physical health but also gets us closer to having some of those human connections that have really been missed over the past year,” he said.
Statewide, 49% of all Mainers have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 44.8% have completed their inoculations. Those numbers rise to 58.5% for first shots and 53.5% for final shots when considering only those 16 years and older. Data on Mainers 12 years and older is not yet available.
In Androscoggin County, 42.3% of all residents have received their first shot and 37.6% have gotten their second. The county still remains behind most of the state when considering inoculations in those 16-plus. Those numbers are 52.4% for first shots and 46.5% for final shots.
Oxford and Franklin County are even further behind in getting shots into arms. Less than 50% of residents in both counties have received either their first or final inoculation.
Maine is in a “race” against the spread of variants of the disease and vaccinations are key to winning that race, Shah said. He added that the variants are generally associated with higher hospitalization rates.
In speaking with a Maine health care system executive, Shah said he learned that the average in-patient age has dropped and more are requiring critical care.
Shah called this “mainly a function of not being vaccinated and not taking COVID seriously.”
As of Wednesday morning, there were 122 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, 47 of whom are in critical care and 25 of whom are connected to a ventilator.
Hospitalization numbers at CMMC and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston are trending down compared to last week, but still remain relatively high at CMMC.
CMMC reported 13 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the intensive care unit, six of whom are connected to a ventilator. There are four patients with confirmed COVID-19 and four with suspected COVID-19 in non-ICU beds for a total of 21 patients as of Wednesday.
At St. Mary’s, there were three COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday.