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3 things you need to know from Maine's COVID-19 briefing: October 27, 2021

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah discussed boosters, vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11, and the health care worker vaccine mandate.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's Center for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Services held their weekly COVID-19 update Wednesday for the state to address booster shots, vaccines for kids, and the health care worker vaccine mandate.

VACCINATION RATES UP IN KEY GROUPS

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Maine is administering an average of 5,206 doses per day, an increase of 30% more shots per day in the last two weeks.

He said first doses jumped 25%, and final doses increased 120%.

Shah said people in their teens through their 40s are getting vaccinated at high rates, particularly in rural areas.

The counties with the highest growth for those in their teens and 20s are Piscataquis, Washington, Somerset, Aroostook, and Sagadahoc.

For those in their 30s and 40s, Piscataquis, Penobscot, and Washington saw the highest growth.

Shah said the age group with the largest increase overall, though, is people aged 50 and older.

"First shots are our focus," Shah said. "It's a good trend. It's an encouraging trend. I'm hoping it continues. There's no question about that. I'm not sure what's driving this particular increase. We're trying to do what we can to sustain it, or making sure that places in rural counties or folks go for health care and public health services are stocked and ready to give the vaccine."

"Maine’s vaccination infrastructure is robust and ready to go," Shah said. "We're preparing for childhood vaccines."

VACCINES FOR KIDS AWAITING APPROVAL

A U.S. FDA advisory panel recommended that the agency authorize the shots for kids age 5 to 11. Still, the FDA would need to issue emergency use authorization, then a CDC advisory panel meets next week, and then the CDC would have to give the shots the green light.

Shah said data show the shots for kids are 90.7% effective against symptomatic COVID-19.

Shah called the news "encouraging" for the roughly 79,000 kids that would be eligible.

"The vaccine offers a tangible opportunity for kids to return to more normal daily life," he said.

But, even with fully vaccinated kids, Shah cited U.S. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky's point that kids may still have to wear masks in schools since not all kids will get the shot at the same time, or at all.

"Certainly that's the direction we're hoping to go, but it is too early to tell what that looks like," Shah said. "The discussion right now is, is around what metrics we would need to see in order to know that we have arrived there."

He said he has asked the U.S. CDC to come up with a metric that could help people at the state, county, and local level determine whether masks would still be needed.

VIRUS, NOT MANDATE, LEADING TO HEALTH CARE WORKER STAFF SHORTAGE, MaineHealth says

MaineHealth leaders said Tuesday that COVID-19, not the vaccine mandate, is causing the staffing shortage at its hospitals.

Executives said the mandate actually caused fewer staff members to miss work for isolating or quarantining.

The mandate for health care workers to be fully vaccinated goes into effect on October 29.

DHHS commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the state is designing the enforcement around the systems they already have in place for other vaccine requirements for health care workers.

They plan to look at hospitals that are not compliant and ask how they can help, sometimes in a one-by-one approach.

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