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Agencies that provide care for older, vulnerable Mainers sign joint letter requesting delay in vaccination mandate

The organizations are requesting that the state delay implementation of the mandate for their employees for 45 days, or until implementation of a federal mandate.

MAINE, USA — Leaders of five health care agencies involved with providing care to older and vulnerable Mainers issued a letter to Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday, requesting an extension of the Oct. 1 deadline for health care workers in the state to be fully COVID vaccinated.

The following representatives from the following agencies signed the letter:

Friday, August 27, is the last day a health care worker can receive a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and be fully vaccinated by October 1. For the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the deadline is September 17. The window to receive the first dose of Moderna passed on August 20.

In the letter to Mills, the organizations expressed concerns about losing workers when staffing is already difficult. The organizations said they "fully agree that it is ideal for every worker who cares for a vulnerable person to be vaccinated. However, the mandate is not allowing sufficient time to get staff vaccinated, to find replacement staff for those who will leave, and to create contingency plans for safely moving residents from facilities that need to close due to inadequate staffing."

The organizations are requesting that the state delay implementation of the mandate for their employees for 45 days, or until the implementation of a federal mandate, whichever is sooner. 

RELATED: Health care workers who want Pfizer must get first dose by Friday

"Also, we ask you to allow new hires who have had one shot in a two-shot series to work in these facilities beyond the October 1st deadline, to avoid critical staffing shortages," the organizations said in the letter. "During that time, unvaccinated staff would be required to utilize masking and PPE, and be routinely tested. Especially since it is now clear that vaccinated staff can also transmit COVID."

Jackie Farwell, director of communications for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, provided a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine in response to the letter. the statement does not indicate any plans by the state to push back the Oct. 1 deadline.

FULL RESPONSE FROM MAINE DHHS:

Health care workers perform a critical role in protecting the health and lives of Maine people, particularly those most vulnerable to the virus -- including older Mainers, people living with disabilities, and individuals facing behavioral health challenges. As of today, 80 percent of hospital staff, 73 percent of nursing home staff, 75 percent of assisted housing staff, and nearly 70 percent of group home staff have already been fully vaccinated. 

The emergency rule’s October 1 effective date provides health care workers adequate time to get vaccinated, particularly given that the vaccine is free and widely available throughout the state. Additionally, Maine CDC has procured 10,000 additional doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week that it has prioritized for health care workers to support our efforts to protect this vital workforce.

As we continue our broader collaboration with health providers to address workforce challenges, vaccination is the best tool available to prevent staffing shortages driven by unvaccinated workers who must isolate or quarantine as a result of COVID-19 infection or exposure. As Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer for MaineHealth, the largest health system in Maine, stated at yesterday’s joint health system press conference: “With the very high rates of community transmission right now in Maine, part of our shortages are that we are losing staff because they’re infected with COVID. So, right now, we’re losing them to the virus, not to the vaccine.”

DHHS stands ready, as always, to do all we can to support providers with safe transitions in the event that alternative placements for patients or residents are required.

It is imperative that health care workers take every precaution to protect themselves and those they serve, particularly now more than ever as the dangerous and highly transmissible Delta variant has taken hold in Maine, illnesses and deaths are on the rise, and half of Maine’s open outbreaks are in health and long-term care facilities. Further, the Governor believes that every person in Maine who is placed in the care of health care personnel has the right to expect - as do their families - that they will receive high-quality and safe care, which includes having their care providers be fully vaccinated in order to protect them against this deadly virus as much as possible.

FULL LETTER TO GOV. MILLS

These five organizations are not the first in Maine to express their concerns with healthcare workers' vaccine mandate.

RELATED: 'This is a huge strain on our hospitals right now.' | Leaders from Maine's largest health systems make plea to public

The Maine Fire Chiefs' Association recently announced its opposition to the mandate in a letter, citing anticipated workforce shortages as one of its primary reasons.