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Maine first responders voice concerns about COVID vaccine mandate

Dozens of Maine's first responders spoke out in a virtual meeting Monday about Gov. Janet Mills' COVID vaccine mandate.

MAINE, USA — Hundreds joined a Maine EMS emergency virtual board meeting Monday to hear and voice concerns about Governor Janet Mills' vaccine mandate.

The mandate requires all health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1. That includes firefighters and EMS personnel.

More than 50 people in the meeting spoke out. Some said while they support vaccines, they do not support the mandate, and said they weren't sure they would meet the October deadline.

Sanford Fire Chief Steve Benotti said his employees are experiencing burnout from the pandemic and fears he could lose more staff because of the rule.

"Sanford specifically is at a 10% deficit due to regular outages at this time and this would push it to 18%. That has a detrimental effect on the city of Sanford and its payroll, as well as the ability to handle calls," said Chief Benotti.

Only a handful were in support of the mandate, including Westbrook Fire Chief Andy Turcotte.

"We're required to have certain vaccines to go to school or to be able to work in the healthcare field. I look at this no differently, especially now that Pfizer received approval from the FDA," said Chief Turcotte.

After more than six hours of discussion, the board voted in favor of recommending removing dispatchers from the mandate and extending the time by which first responders need to be vaccinated.

The board will bring the recommendation to the state but are fully aware that Maine EMS can't change the mandate and their recommendation may have no impact.

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