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Mills announces COVID-19 vaccine requirement for Maine health care workers

Health care workers must be fully vaccinated by October 1, 2021

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday afternoon in a press conference that the state will require health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1.

The mandate will apply to any individual employed by a hospital, multi-level health care facility, home health agency, nursing facility, residential care facility, and intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities that is licensed by the State of Maine. The emergency rule also requires those employed by emergency medical service organizations or dental practices to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Services are using authority “under existing law to require certain vaccinations of people who work in health care settings.”

Health care workers must be fully vaccinated by October 1, 2021.

"You and your family have a right to expect that everybody who cares for you in that institution, in that facility is fully vaccinated, not only against mumps and measles and influenza and chickenpox, but against this deadly, deadly virus," said Gov. Mills during Thursday's press conference. "With this requirement, we're protecting health care workers. We're protecting their patients, including our most vulnerable people. And we're protecting our health care capacity. I continue to strongly urge all Maine people to get vaccinated because doing so may save your life, the life of a family member, the life of a friend, or the life of a child who is not yet eligible for vaccine."

Maine has long required employees of health care facilities to be immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, and influenza. This existing rule has been amended to include the COVID-19 vaccine.

Organizations that fall under the requirement must ensure each employee is vaccinated. The state will enforce it as a condition of the facilities’ licensure.

School nurses are not required to get the vaccine under this rule, but if they work at one of the applicable facilities, they are required under the rule to get the vaccine.

"We're staying within that framework and adding COVID-19 . That makes the most sense at this time. We encourage all health care providers, irrespective of their setting, like school nurses, like those who practice on their own, to get vaccinated at well," said Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. "We're just using the tools that we have at our disposal to quickly and effectively, and I will say, amongst the most aggressive states in the nation in this regard, get our health care workers vaccinated."

“With this move, Maine becomes one of the most aggressive states in the nation in requiring vaccination of health care workers, both in terms of the scope of health care workers and timeframe for vaccination,” the Governor’s office said in a release Thursday.

Mills, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, and Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew held a press briefing on Thursday to discuss the announcement. Watch here:

According to the governor’s office, a Maine DHHS-mandated survey of health care workers showed that 80.3% of hospital staff, 73% of nursing facility staff, and 68.2% of intermediate care facilities’ staff have been fully vaccinated.

“Maine’s hospitals, clinics, nursing facilities and other health providers are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19,” Lambrew said. “We thank those who have already taken this critical step for themselves, their patients and their communities, but with the arrival of the Delta variant in Maine, it is more important than ever to protect these workers through vaccination.”

“Scientific data show that vaccination is our best protection against all strains of the virus that causes COVID-19,” Shah said. “Given the elevated risk posed by the Delta variant, this is a prudent step in preventing COVID-19 from putting more Maine people at risk, especially those who care for others.”

“A statewide health care worker vaccine mandate protects our patients and workforce and is critically needed as we continue our battle with this pandemic. Patient safety is our number one priority and this initiative is the very best way to provide that protection. This will save lives, keep caregivers healthy, and keep our hospitals safe as we care for all of our patients, those with COVID-19 and those without,” said Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association.

The move comes as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services required COVID-19 vaccines for all health care employees who work for the federal government. The order will affect more than 25,000 clinicians, researchers, contractors, trainees, and volunteers with the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. It applies to employees who regularly interact with patients or whose duties could put workers in contact with patients.

“Requiring our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers, as well as the patients and people they serve,” Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Thursday.

It also follows announcements by Maine's two largest hospital systems, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health, announcing they would both require healthcare workers to get the vaccine.

On Aug. 5, Maine Medical Center reported an outbreak among emergency department staff to the Maine CDC. So far, 10 staff members in the Portland hospital's emergency department have tested positive for COVID-19.

At Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, eight staff members have recently tested positive for the virus. Officials said Wednesday those cases do not appear to be linked.

The Maine State Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine ahead of the announcement that they agree vaccination is "a critically important part of a comprehensive public health program for infection control."

"We strongly believe all eligible people should be vaccinated, while respecting the need for medical and religious accommodations," MSNA/NNOC said. "Science shows that a multiple-measures approach to infection control is the most effective, and vaccination is just one, albeit critical, component. In addition to encouraging vaccination, MSNA/NNOC is calling for proven and effective public and workplace infection control measures that the entire country must be taking now, including protecting nurses and health care workers with optimal, single-use PPE, providing safe staffing levels, robust and routine testing, proper isolation, contact tracing and notification, proper quarantining, ventilation, universal masking, social distancing, and diligent hygiene. These measures are equally as important for other settings that employ essential workers, including retail, grocery, food industry, and more."

This story will be updated.