Good morning from Augusta. Ramadan Mubarak to all who celebrate the Islamic holy month, which began Monday evening.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Salmon is part of our history and tradition,” Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Chief Clarissa Sabbatis said about a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help create a genetic database to produce hardier Atlantic salmon. “We feel connected with the land, and we’ve always been good stewards of the land.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
A federal recommendation to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccine administration could inhibit Maine’s efforts to extend vaccinations in rural areas. Two federal health agencies recommended Monday that states pause distribution of the one-shot vaccine while scientists review its safety after six reports of a rare blood clot in recently vaccinated individuals. The state will temporarily pause use of the vaccine to conform to that guidance, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah confirmed Tuesday morning.
In the short term, Maine won’t be canceling many appointments this week as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine accounted for only 2,500 doses, or 7 percent of Maine’s vaccine allocation from the federal government this week, though that does not include doses sent to Hannaford and other chain pharmacies. But where appointments may be impacted is notable.
On Monday, the state launched a mobile vaccination unit using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that aims to bring the vaccine to rural areas where access is otherwise limited. The mobile clinic, jointly operated with FEMA, had 1,650 appointments scheduled this week, largely in Oxford County, which has among the lowest vaccination rates in Maine. Immediate plans for the clinic are not clear, but individuals with appointments this week will likely have to reschedule. The state has also been using the vaccines to immunize people who are incarcerated.
In the long term, it could be damaging for the state’s efforts to boost its vaccination coverage overall. The one-shot vaccine has been praised for less fussy shipping and storage requirements. It can be stored in a regular refrigerator for months, making it good for smaller providers. It has also been seen as a more flexible option because it does not require multiple appointments. That would possibly help get doses to younger people or those whose schedules might not accommodate two appointments.
The pause also means vaccination efforts will simply take longer. Supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was expected to increase later this spring, helping Maine and other states ramp up their vaccination rates. With fewer vaccines coming into the state, it will take longer to get a shot to every Maine adult who wants one.
What comes next with the vaccine is not yet clear. The U.S. could call for resumed use of the vaccine if it is determined that the clots — only documented in six people out of 6.8 million who have received Johnson & Johnson vaccines so far — are not related to the shots. They could also recommend the vaccine only be used in a certain subgroup of people who are considered not susceptible to the side effects, as several European countries have done with the AstraZeneca vaccine after similar concerns about a rare blood clot emerged there.
The Maine politics top 3
— “USM closing institute funded by Chinese government,” David Marino Jr., Bangor Daily News: “The closing comes amid increased scrutiny of the institutes, which operate at about 50 colleges nationwide. Tufts University announced it was closing its Confucius Institute last month after months of protests from opponents of the Chinese government, including the Tibetan Association of Boston. The University of Kentucky also announced it was closing its institute last month.”
— Bill would eliminate Maine’s intelligence-sharing center,” Robbie Feinberg, Maine Public: “At a hearing on a bill to eliminate the center on Monday, Democratic Rep. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell said that a 2012 federal subcommittee of fusion centers nationwide found that these units forwarded intelligence of ‘uneven’ quality and have at times endangered civil liberties.”
The center has been under increased scrutiny since last year. A lawsuit from a state trooper and a trove of leaked documents have led to critics saying the center infringes on people’s civil liberties and does not make people safer. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck has defended the center as a critical information-sharing tool that would hamper local police’s ability to do their jobs.
— “Republican lawmaker facing backlash after sending ‘racist’ email,” Rosemary Lausier, BDN: “Rep. Michael Lemelin — who represents Chelsea, Jefferson, Nobleboro and Whitefield — replied to [Windham resident Krista] Gerrity, downplaying the effects of the virus while calling it the “China virus,” a racist trope frequently used to place blame on China for the spread of COVID-19.”
Lemelin demanded an apology from the House speaker on Tuesday. After House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, called his email “racist,” Lemelin issued a statement demanding an apology, saying the speaker is “acting as an oppressor through smears and character assassination.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. 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.
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