Maine deployed its mobile vaccination unit on Monday as part of an effort to get COVID-19 shots to remote corners of the state.
The unit got its start at the Oxford Casino in Oxford. The state has said the unit is only the second of its kind in New England and will travel to communities around the state over the next two months.
The Maine mobile vaccine site will offer Johnson & Johnson vaccines for now, with staff saying they’re ideal for rural areas because residents will not have to return somewhere for a second dose after the clinic leaves town. But the mobile facility can also store Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at their required colder temperature using refrigerators already built into the clinic.
The plan for now is to offer a minimum of 250 shots given per day this week in 10 Maine communities and visit the southern to northern and eastern reaches of the state over the course of the next two months. FEMA officials note a similar facility in Connecticut is now offering 400 shots daily.
According to Maine Governor Janet Mills and FEMA Regional Administrator, Paul Ford, a federal index indicating “social vulnerability” will be used to determined which communities get the clinic right now.
Maine is one of the most rural states in the country and many parts of the state are far from the nearest mass vaccination site. Many of the sites are in more densely populated cities such as Portland and Bangor.
“It makes it easier for people in my area,” said Elizabeth Olsen, who was one of the first recipients of a COVID-19 vaccine at the clinic while it was set up in Oxford.
Olsen, also the town’s clerk, said the announcement about the clinic was sudden.
Shortly after receiving her vaccine, she found using it went well and she was surprised “how efficient that just went.”
The clinic can be prepared for use in two hours and dismantled for transport in roughly one hour and is funded through federal money, with a significant amount of it from the two most recent COVID-19 relief bills, though it uses a state supply of vaccine.
About 46% of the state’s population has had at least a first dose of the vaccine.
For the time being, this type of option from FEMA will be unique to Maine and Connecticut in New England.
According to Ford, only those two states have requested these setups so far and it is possible for Maine to ask to extend its use of the mobile clinic past the two month offering if desired.
“Currently we haven’t received a request from any of those states,” referring to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.
“Connecticut has asked for a second one and is preparing to receive a second one,” he added.