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Health care workers protest COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Augusta

Northern Light Health says about 18% of its staff has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, while Maine Health says its staff is closer to 16% unvaccinated.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Over 100 health care workers and supporters protested Governor Janet Mills' COVID vaccination order Monday morning in Augusta. 

"This is going to be detrimental to the health care facilities around the state. We are already short-staffed in a lot of ways and this is just going to put another burden and pressure," said protester Nicole Drew.

This protest in Augusta comes after Mills announced last Thursday in a press conference that the state will require health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1.

Organizations that fall under the requirement must ensure each employee is vaccinated. 

Maine Health officials tell NEWS CENTER Maine that 84% of its staff members are fully vaccinated and an additional 2% have had their first shot. Those numbers are the latest they have, from August 10 for its 23,000 employees across its hospitals (including the New Hampshire affiliate). 

Northern Light Health officials tell NEWS CENTER Maine that 81.6% of its approximately 12,500 health care workers are vaccinated as of Monday.

But among those remaining unvaccinated percentages, some people feel very strongly about their decision to remain so, including medical student Katie Grenier.

"A lot of people have a passion to be here, that's why we do this job, so maybe they'll understand that if they lose all of us I don't know who's going to take our spot," said Grenier.

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Governor Mills' office Monday morning for a comment on the protest. Her press secretary, Lindsay Crete said: 

"The State of Maine has long required the immunization of employees of designated health care facilities to reduce the risk of exposure to, and possible transmission of, vaccine-preventable diseases. These immunizations include measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, and influenza. This change simply adds the COVID-19 vaccine and is supported by a broad coalition of health care providers across Maine, including Maine Hospital Association, Maine Medical Association, Maine Primary Care Association, Maine Health Care Association, Maine Emergency Medical Services, and Maine Dental Association, along with the state’s two largest health systems, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health.

Vaccinations are safe, effective, and the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people and to curb this pandemic. Health care workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine people, and it is imperative they take every precaution, particularly in light of the more dangerous and transmissible Delta variant, to not only protect their health but also that of their patients, who include our most vulnerable. Further, the Governor believes that every person in Maine who is placed in the care of a health care facility 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."

Crete said the mandate has a medical exemption.

"I am here today, the number one reason is because I have the right of my own body and what is injected into it or not injected into it, and I don't believe that this governor or any governor, or any politicians or the government, or anybody should be able to tell me what I have to put into my body, that's what it comes down to," said protester Ryan Moore. "The governor represents us, the will of the people, she doesn't represent her own interests."

"If we don't have the right to say what is put in your body, we have no rights," Moore said.

"I am not anti-vax, I am anti-force behind it, this is not FDA approved yet," said protest organizer Olivia Turner.