A mass vaccination site at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor will open its doors Tuesday, set to vaccinate nearly 2,000 people by the end of the week in what will be the first mass vaccination site to open in Maine.
About 1,800 people are scheduled to be vaccinated with doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in clinics on Tuesday and Thursday this week, with 900 a day receiving their shots. All the spots in those clinics, run by the Northern Light Health hospital network, are already reserved.
The opening of the first mass vaccination site in the Bangor area came weeks after Gov. Janet Mills announced she would make the COVID-19 vaccine available to Mainers 70 and older. The site will centralize vaccination efforts that have already begun while giving the potential for expansion when Northern Light Health acquires more COVID-19 vaccination doses.
Northern Light Health has set up the Cross Center to vaccinate up to 2,000 people a day and potentially expand to 5,000 a day if required with little effort, Dr. James Jarvis, senior physician executive of Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 response, said Monday. The goal is to vaccinate each person in 45 minutes or less.
Jarvis said nearly all of the clinic, outside of the building’s arena section, had been set up in just a few days. Northern Light Health announced the vaccination site on Jan. 27, a few days after Portland-based Maine Health said it would open a site at the Scarborough Downs. That clinic begins vaccinating people on Wednesday, with MaineHealth expecting to vaccinate 350 to 500 people daily when it first opens. It will eventually be able to handle 1,000 people a day.
Vaccine recipients will be able to sign up for spots over the phone and through an online portal, with new slots opening every Monday at 2 p.m., though Jarvis said Northern Light would only open spaces when it knows vaccines will be available. Demand has already been heavy, with Northern Light Health’s vaccine portal briefly going down and the vaccination hotline getting backed up on Monday.
There will be far more vaccine demand than supply for the foreseeable future, Jarvis said.
“The downside is that we just don’t have the vaccine to meet that demand right now,” Jarvis said.
While a winter storm will bring up to 10 inches of snow to the Bangor area tomorrow, Northern Light Health will go forward with the clinic’s original opening date.
“We know this is Maine: weather will happen,” Jarvis said. “We don’t want to get in the habit of rescheduling clinic after clinic.”
People who cannot go to the Cross Center because of the weather will still have a vaccine dose reserved for them but will need to reschedule both their doses, Jarvis said.
Those receiving the Pfizer vaccine will need to receive a second dose three weeks after the first, while Moderna vaccine recipients will need their second shot four weeks after the first. Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for this week.
The Cross Center vaccine site will feature multiple stops that visitors will go through as they verify their appointment and health information, and are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Face coverings will be required, and there are numerous 6-foot distancing indicators in place telling people to keep their distance from others.
The goal is to get people through the check-in process and vaccinated at the site’s 20 vaccine stations as quickly as possible, Jarvis said.
At this point, no one can be vaccinated without an appointment. People who show up without an appointment to try to get vaccinated will be turned away, Jarvis said.
People will sit down, receive the shot, and then be asked to wait inside the center for 15 minutes. Some people, including those with certain allergies, will be asked to wait 30 minutes, with emergency medical personnel available if anyone experiences a reaction to the vaccine or any other medical problem.
While allergic reactions to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech remain rare, they have occurred throughout the country. The 15- and 30-minute waiting periods follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 2,000 people will be able to be inside at once, enough for those being vaccinated to bring others — including family members — who are not receiving the shot if necessary.
Northern Light expects to still be vaccinating residents in the middle of the summer.
“We have asked for this vaccination site to be up and running until every Mainer has been vaccinated appropriately,” he said. “For the foreseeable future, we will take control of this site.”
BDN writer Caitlin Andrews contributed to this report.