Photo Credit: Maine Health
Maine is leading the way in vaccination rates across the country. The most recent numbers from the Mayo Clinic show Maine with a first-dose vaccination rate just shy of 68% and 63% of the population fully vaccinated. But it hasn’t been easy. The state has overcome many of the same challenges that have stymied other states.
Maine has the highest number of people living in rural areas (61.3% as of 2010) and the highest proportion of residents over 65 in the United States. Maine also has a growing immigrant population with the largest share of its workers in manufacturing, retail and transportation/warehousing—in other words, industries that have been harder to vaccinate and more exposed to public interaction. Additionally, aside from its state health department, Maine has no county public health departments or medical infrastructure to deal with regular patients, much less a pandemic.
Maine’s healthcare providers have risen to the challenge nicely, led by the two largest, nonprofit health systems in the Pine Tree State: MaineHealth and Northern Light Health. MaineHealth alone has administered 29% of all vaccines in the state as of June 1, 2020.
The state’s vaccination success has been driven by both people and flexibility. MaineHealth redeployed its staff from various departments, from clinical to finance to administration, to help at pop-up clinics and mass vaccination sites.
Major employers in the state, including LL Bean, Unum and WEX, to name a few, gave employees a paid day off to volunteer at vaccination sites. Idexx Laboratories hired laid-off health care workers to help administer the shots. And community groups, state government and nonprofit organizations helped mobilize thousands and thousands of more volunteers and disseminated educational materials contributing to Maine’s success.
Perhaps most remarkable is the growing number of vaccinations among minorities and other marginalized populations, avoiding racial disparities that have plagued other parts of the country. As this article points out, “the same or a higher percentage of Black and Asian people in age groups eligible for vaccine are vaccinated in Maine compared to White people. The same is true for Hispanic people compared with non-Hispanic people.” And although public data is limited in regards to Tribal populations, “there may be similar trends for people 50 and older who identify as Native American.” While some gaps exist in regards to Maine’s rural vaccination rates, even those are much higher compared to similar rural areas in the nation.
As Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah put it, “No corners were cut—red tape was cut. That’s how we got the vaccines as quickly as we did.”