Update: Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday afternoon that school staff and child care workers of all ages will now be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. See story here.
Northern Light Health is working out a plan with the state to vaccinate eligible teachers and other education staff across Maine at the end of next week, a top official from the hospital system said Wednesday.
Gov. Janet Mills requested that Northern Light “set aside” March 12 to 14 to vaccinate educators 60 and older against the coronavirus, Dr. James Jarvis, who leads Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 response, said Wednesday.
While the details aren’t finalized, it’s an example of how the state plans to prioritize teachers for COVID-19 vaccinations, even though it’s resisted making all of them eligible for the vaccine.
Maine has retreated from prioritizing frontline workers for vaccines in favor of a strictly age-based approach under which all residents 60 and older are currently eligible. But in announcing the age-based approach, Mills’ administration said it planned to prioritize teachers who are already eligible because of their age.
The administration so far has released few details on its plans to do that, but it’s been under pressure from the state’s teachers’ union, the Maine Education Association, and the federal government to prioritize teachers of all ages for vaccinations.
Jarvis said Northern Light needs the state’s approval before it opens up teacher-only vaccine appointments, but the health system plans to add appointment slots and extend hours at its vaccine sites to prioritize teachers and other school employees.
The plans will vary by vaccination site, Jarvis said. Northern Light runs mass vaccination sites at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the Portland Expo and the Maine Mall in South Portland. Northern Light said Wednesday that it plans to start using the Piscataquis County Ice Arena in Dover-Foxcroft as another mass vaccination site later this month. It also is administering vaccines at its locations throughout much of the state.
“Going forward, we will do what’s necessary to assist in taking care of this particular population,” Jarvis said.
Maine announced the switch to an age-based vaccination system on Friday, and 60- to 69-year-old residents became eligible on Wednesday. Mainers 50 and over are expected to be eligible in April, 40 and older in May, 30 and older in June, and those under 30 in July.
The state wants vaccine clinics for teachers and school staff in each of the state’s nine superintendent regions, and to give shots on Fridays and weekends to accommodate teachers’ schedules, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said in a Friday message to health care providers.
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Tuesday that the state planned to collaborate with existing clinics to vaccinate eligible educators.
However, under the current expected schedule for age-based vaccinations, many teachers and school staff won’t be eligible to be vaccinated until the school year is close to over.
Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt praised Mills’ plan when it was unveiled last week, but said Monday that the teachers’ union “will advocate using all possible avenues for prioritization for all its members immediately” if the rollout does not go as planned.
Pressure to vaccinate teachers is also coming from the federal level. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he was directing states to work to get every educator in the U.S. at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March.
While some school systems across the country have pinned their reopening plans on teacher vaccinations, schools that are already open for in-person learning in Maine and across the country have not proven to be sites of widespread transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Schools have adopted a number of measures, including required mask-wearing, smaller classes, spaced-out desks, and generally fewer student interactions, to prevent the virus’ spread.