MaineHealth, the region’s largest integrated health system announced Jan. 19 it will start to offer limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines to people 70 and older.

Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital in Rockland and Belfast are in the planning stages, with vaccinations of those 70 and older expected to start in Belfast Jan. 27, while the expectation at Pen Bay is that vaccinations for those 70 and older will commence in the coming weeks.

A location for where vaccinations will be given has yet to be announced.

MaineHealth officials stressed that, for now, there will be limited supplies of the vaccine and that it expects demand to far exceed the amount of vaccine being allotted through the state.

The health system also stressed that demand for scheduling so far has been overwhelming, and they ask everyone to be patient as they seek vaccinations. On Jan. 18, the first day MaineHealth’s vaccination call center was fully operational, more than 18,000 individuals called seeking a vaccination, many of them placing multiple calls.

As a result, MaineHealth is looking at alternatives to manage the high volume of requests. In the meantime, MaineHealth is asking people not to reach out to local MaineHealth practices to try to schedule a vaccination, and check for the most up to date information.

Last week, after suggesting there were vaccines being held in reserve for second doses that could be released early, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in fact it had no such reserves on hand and distribution would remain largely flat for coming weeks. As a result, MaineHealth’s weekly allotment of vaccines hasn’t increased significantly over previous weeks.

The health system is still working through vaccinations in the so-called Phase 1A group, which includes health care workers both within MaineHealth and the communities it serves. Nursing home residents and staff are also part of Phase 1A and are being vaccinated through commercial pharmacy chains.

Now, with Phase 1A nearing completion, there are vaccines available for the Phase 1B group, which has been defined by Maine officials to include people over the age of 70, while New Hampshire has authorized vaccinations for people 65 and older.

However, it is expected that the federal government won’t be able to distribute enough vaccines initially to keep up with demand in those groups.

LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor and Maine Medical Center/Maine Medical Partners in greater Portland expect to start vaccinating people 70 and older beginning Monday, Jan. 25.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna versions of the vaccine require cold storage and special handling. Also vaccine recipients must be observed for a period of time afterwards to monitor against adverse reactions.

Because of these requirements, vaccinations will not be done through MaineHealth medical practices, but instead at clinics set up specifically to administer the vaccine. Vaccinations are by appointment only, and people are urged not to arrive at a vaccination site without one