In Maine, a local diner is serving up COVID-19 vaccinations

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Posted at 12:33 PM, Jun 15, 2021

Every day at Becky's Diner in Portland, Maine, is a race against the clock. Food is constantly coming in and out of the kitchen there. But the family-owned business recently got involved in a much different race, the race to vaccinate America.

With vaccination rates slowing, Becky's Diner decided to expand its menu and started offering COVID-19 vaccines to patrons.

"It offered it to people who worked down here, who maybe didn’t want to make an appointment at a local pharmacy," said Zack Rand whose mom opened the diner more than 30 years ago.

Vaccination clinics are nothing new for Becky's Diner. During the H1N1 outbreak, they also helped to facilitate vaccination clinics. It's an idea that could become a critical model for communities nationwide.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills is with MaineHealth. She pushed hard for the idea because it gave health officials a chance to reach working-class Americans where they are.

"We were there at 4:30 a.m. We ran into a lot of fishermen getting coffee and they thought ‘I’ll get a vaccine, it’s easy, it’s convenient,'" Dr. Mills said.

More than 200 people got their vaccine at this diner recently. While that number may seem small, it comes at a critical point in the pandemic. Daily vaccination rates have plummeted in recent weeks. At the country's peak vaccination point in April, about 3.4 million people were getting shots daily. The U.S. is now averaging fewer than 1 million shots per day, a nearly 70% drop.

"People under 50 are busy. They’re working. They have kids. They’re not going to take time off to go to a doctor’s office or clinic, so we need to go to where they’re at," Dr. Mills added.

It’s young adults who public health officials are really trying to get to right now. What public health officials like Dr. Mills are realizing is that answering some questions for folks in person, often overwhelmingly helps to combat vaccine hesitancy.

"I’ve found the people who are vaccine-hesitant, just have a few questions. They just need some concerns addressed. They need to have a conversation, that’s all it is," she added.

With those dropping numbers, it makes clinics like the one at Becky's Diner even more important. Like much of the country, Maine is incredibly rural. At some clinics there, maybe 10 or 15 people come in to get a shot during a week and Dr. Mills is OK with that.

"This is what we have to be doing across the country," she noted.

In the coming weeks, vaccine clinics will start popping up at local breweries, music venues, churches, and mosques across the state because at this point, every shot matters.