News Feature

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Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 14, 2021 and Castine Patriot, May 13, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, May 13, 2021
Young teens now able to get COVID-19 vaccines
Adults to get park passes, gift cards for a shot

by Leslie Landrigan

Northern Light Health is planning to reach out to Maine schools to set up free COVID-19 vaccine clinics for students age 12 and older, Dr. James Jarvis, the health system’s medical specialist, said in a virtual news conference on May 11. The day before, the federal government had approved the first vaccine for teenagers younger than 16.

“These vaccines are safe and effective and the single best way we will end this pandemic,” Jarvis said.

Northern Light has already requested a vaccine clinic at George Stevens Academy, and the school plans to go ahead with it.

Get a gift card with that shot

With half of eligible Mainers already vaccinated, state and health officials now face a new problem: overcoming the other half’s reluctance to get vaccinated. To encourage vaccinations, Gov. Janet Mills announced on May 11 an reward program for adults 18 and older to get their first shot between May 11 and May 31.

People with a vaccine card can get free fishing or hunting licenses, $20 gift cards to L.L. Bean, Portland Sea Dogs tickets, free passes to state and wildlife parks or Oxford Plains Speedway tickets, the governor said. Availability for each category of reward is limited to the first 5,000 or 10,000 people who register.

To register call 888-445-4111 starting May 17 until June 1.

Vaccinating young teens

The federal government on May 10 had approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for people between 12 and 15. The Pfizer vaccine had already been approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. However, it requires special super-cold refrigeration generally unavailable in rural settings.

The other two vaccines—Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—don’t require ultra-cold storage, but they have only been approved for people 18 and older.

Northern Light’s Jarvis said the health system had reached out to schools in places where it has facilities. But none of the top school officials on the peninsula or islands said they’d heard from Northern Light.

“With the Pfizer vaccine needing very, very cold conditions we would not qualify,” said School Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington in an email.

Time is short to vaccinate young teenagers in school settings, especially as the Pfizer vaccine requires a second shot four weeks after the first. School ends in June throughout the peninsula and islands.

The pandemic has disrupted teenagers’ lives since it caused classrooms to close in March of 2020. They’ve had to adjust to learning remotely, on-and-off classroom schedules, sports cancellations, gathering limits and masking and extra safety precautions inside school.

Return to normal?

Tim Seely, head of school at George Stevens Academy, said a good number of his students 16 and older have already been vaccinated. Northern Light has spoken with his head nurse, and he said George Stevens would be willing to set up an in-school clinic.

“We’ll cooperate in any way we can,” he said in a phone interview.

Seely anticipates that if enough students get vaccinated within a school, the state will allow it to open in the fall without taking any precautions against the coronavirus.

Mark Hurvitt, School Union 93 superintendent, said he hadn’t heard anything about in-school clinics.

None of the local pop-up clinics have offered the Pfizer vaccine.