Minh Hoang of Maine Health fills a syringe with a COVID-19 vaccine at the former Scarborough Downs horse racing track on Wednesday Feb. 3, 2021. The 30,000 square-foot makeshift clinic will the capacity to vaccinate up to 2,000 people per day. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This settlement is one step toward achieving accountability and redress for the harms caused by companies which aggressively pushed opioids into states like Maine and profited greatly from it,” said Attorney General Aaron Frey on news that Maine would receive $3.1 million as part of a settlement with McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm that advised an opioid manufacturer to aggressively market its painkillers.

What we’re watching today

Maine remains about a month away from extending coronavirus vaccine eligibility to more older Mainers, but the state has remained mum on who might get the vaccine after that. The state is on pace to open up vaccinations to people age 65 and over in early March, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Thursday.

That is based on Maine’s allocation of vaccines from the federal government increasing slightly next week to 21,475 doses. It is expected to stay at that higher level for the next several weeks. But state officials have been hesitant to make predictions more than a few weeks out, saying the continued pace of vaccinations will depend largely on supply.

The state also has not made any decisions as to who exactly will be up for the vaccine after Mainers age 65 and up. Phase 1B, the stage Maine recently began, also includes individuals with certain pre-existing conditions and certain frontline workers. The state has diverged slightly from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in vaccinating older Mainers ahead of many frontline workers, though health care workers, first responders and law enforcement were vaccinated in Phase 1A.

As to who exactly will be eligible in the latter half of Phase 1B, Maine has only said that it is reviewing pre-existing conditions identified by U.S. CDC guidelines to determine prioritization. In an exchange with the Bangor Daily News during a Thursday briefing, Gov. Janet Mills said no decisions had been made as to which frontline workers qualified under Phase 1B or the subsequent Phase 1C, which is also supposed to include some frontline workers under the state’s plan. They could include teachers and grocery workers.

Other states have taken varying approaches, with some already vaccinating teachers and certain other frontline workers. Among the states that have already extended the vaccine to people with pre-existing conditions, there are many differences in what conditions are covered. New Jersey and Mississippi, for instance, are offering early vaccinations to smokers, which are one of the groups identified by the U.S. CDC as being at high risk for severe COVID-19.

Maine has some time to settle on those plans. The state’s largest health provider, MaineHealth, is registering everyone who asks for an appointment but only scheduling those 70 and older. The timeline could speed up if a new vaccine, such as the one developed by Johnson & Johnson, is approved. The company applied for emergency use authorization on Thursday.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Small clinics close gaps in COVID-19 vaccine access for rural Mainers,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The majority of Maine’s doses for the public have gone to bigger hospitals as part of a strategy of getting as many vaccines out as quickly as possible with a constrained federal supply. Since vaccines began rolling out in December, [Federally Qualified Health Centers] have gotten an increasing but still small share of allocations with 4.6 percent expected to be distributed to them next week.”

The Senate took a large step toward a coronavirus relief package early Friday. The Democratic-led Senate needed the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to approve the budget bill that could serve as the vehicle for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. After an all-night “vote-a-rama” on a raft of mostly messaging amendments from Republicans, Democrats voted around 5:30 a.m. to move forward with a party-line bill. There were many instances of bipartisanship that could affect the eventual deal, however, including when senators voted 99-1 for an amendment led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, aiming to rein in stimulus payments to higher-income households.

— “Maine solar projects upended after CMP calls for more system upgrades,” Fred Bever, Maine Public: “Maine’s energy world is in an uproar over a finding by Central Maine Power that it must revise its analysis of costly system upgrades needed to serve a boom in new solar power projects.”

— “Maine man charged for taking part in DC riot,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Kyle Fitzsimons, 37, was arrested Thursday in Maine, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Portland. He is the first Maine resident to be charged in connection with the riot. Fitzsimons allegedly twice charged at a line of Metropolitan Police Department officers who managed to fight him off. One struck Fitzsimons on the head with a baton, according to the FBI’s affidavit filed in federal court.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...