SCARBOROUGH – Just a few moments after he received his COVID-19 vaccination Wednesday, Robyn Goshorn was asked how he felt.
“Grateful to be here,” the 73-year-old from South Portland said. “And a little guilty too, I guess, to think of all the people who are still waiting. But we have a wise physician friend who said if you have the chance to get the vaccine, get it.”
Goshorn and his wife, Alice, 79, were the first to be vaccinated at a mass clinic at Scarborough Downs, the first such site in southern Maine. MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center and several other hospitals and practices, partnered with Crossroads Holdings, the company that has been redeveloping the 500-acre former harness racing venue. Retrofitting the former grandstand into a 30,000-square foot clinic was a herculean effort over 15 days that involved more than 40 companies and cost $1 million.
“Today’s opening is really all about community partnerships and the intense desire Mainers have to take care of their fellow Mainers,” MaineHealth CEO Bill Caron said during a brief ceremony prior to the opening. “We hope that at some point, upwards of 300,000 Mainers will receive a vaccination by walking through that front door. That’s the scale we’re trying to accomplish.”
Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew was on hand as well and said the launch of the Scarborough Downs site, and others like it, is the result of “intense work, planning, logistics and sacrifice.”
“Today’s excitement is not the same as that which has historically brought people to this place,” she said. “Instead, it is the excitement of hope.”
Aside from the Goshorns, who agreed to be vaccinated earlier in the day as part of a media availability arranged by MaineHealth, another 114 appointments were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Among them was Robert Powers, 82, who drove up from Waterboro in York County.
“I called two or three times and just got a recording that said call again,” he said prior to his vaccination. “Then I called the next morning and got right through to someone and scheduled it. I got lucky.”
Many Mainers have experienced frustration in trying to line up an appointment during the early rollout.
Powers, who is widowed and lives alone, said life hasn’t changed too much for him over the last 10 months. He goes out to eat a lot less.
“I’m glad to get it over with,” he said of the vaccine.
The Scarborough Downs site will be open for the foreseeable future, every day except Sunday, and eventually will be able to accommodate 1,500 to 2,000 vaccinations per day, contingent on supply.
Maine and other states have been getting more doses of vaccines over the last two weeks and production is expected to continue increasing. Lambrew said the state got an increase last week of 16 percent and next week it will receive another 5 percent on top of that
“It’s still not enough,” she said.
As of Wednesday morning, at least 120,000 Mainers had gotten their first dose and more than 41,000 individuals have received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or about 3 percent of the adult population.
Northern Light Health, the parent company of Eastern Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and others, launched its own mass vaccination site this week at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. It expects to administer 1,800 shots by week’s end. Other sites across the state are in the planning stages.
Vaccinations have been happening at smaller sites for weeks now as Maine has moved into Phase 1B of its vaccination plan. Gov. Janet Mills has directed clinics to prioritize those age 70 and older while supply remains limited.
Scarborough was a good location for a mass clinic, Caron said, because of its location between northern York County and southern Cumberland County, where a large percentage of the state’s population lives.
Bill Perry of Wells was among the first appointments early Wednesday afternoon. He arrived about a half hour early with his wife, Rose, who at 69, just missed the age cutoff.
“I called for three days and all I got was ‘there’s nothing available,’” said Bill Perry, 74. “The fourth time I called in, I got into an automated system to register. Then they called me about a week later and I got scheduled. I didn’t know what to expect, none of us know.”
For many older Mainers, their first shot represents a glimmer of hope that a return to normalcy might be possible, although Perry has tempered expectations.
“We are never going to go back to the normal we once knew, with or without the shot,” he said.
Robyn Goshorn had a different outlook.
“We don’t plan to change our behavior, but it certainly feels like there is a future to look forward to,” he said.
The Goshorns have been extremely careful during the pandemic. They haven’t gone out to eat or visited with friends. They haven’t even taken communion at their church in nearly a year.
“We’re totally lucky, we have what we need, we have a nice place to be,” he said. “But the isolation is hard.”
Their first grandchild was born last April. He lives in Chicago with his parents, and the Goshorns long for the day they can visit him in person.
Alice Goshorn said she felt a little strange getting the vaccination because she knows her life isn’t going to change overnight.
“I just hear (Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director) Dr. (Nirav) Shah’s message in my ear all the time, ‘Be patient. Be patient,’” she said, pausing for a moment. “So, I’m trying to be patient.”