BREWER, Maine — All Northern Light Health staff will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once the vaccines are fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Northern Light Health President and CEO Tim Dentry said in a press release Monday.
Currently, the vaccines are being administered under emergency use authorization (EUA) but once that changes, Dentry said staff will need to receive the vaccine within six weeks of full approval with "very few exceptions."
Paul Bolin, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Northern Light Health, said they expect employees to start that vaccine regimen within two weeks of FDA removing EUA. Bolin said any vaccine an employee receives is acceptable, but that once one manufacturer receives full authorization, employees will be required to get their first dose within two weeks.
Those who refuse to get a vaccine will be removed from the schedule and not permitted to work. Bolin said they can take paid time off.
"We put a lot of thought into this decision, and we're sure it's the right choice for our patients, our staff, and our communities," said Bolin. "The remaining group of 20% or so will be vaccinated during this coming period. We think that's a very important component of our staff resiliency, our ability to provide care in a safe fashion and a safe work environment for all our employees."
Bolin said religious or medical exemptions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but believed the number of staff who will require an exemption will be "very, very small." Those who do have an exemption will be tested for COVID-19 twice per week until the CDC declares the pandemic over.
Dr. Navneet Marwaha said one of the main concerns from the roughly 20% of hospital system staff that is unvaccinated centered around wanting the FDA to fully authorize one of the vaccines.
"We're very hopeful that once the FDA has full approval of the vaccine, that some who were hesitant will have their concerns resolved and become vaccinated," said Bolin.
"It may not be the right fit for everyone," said Dr. Marwaha. "The decisions that people make for not getting vaccinated, we have to respect them. I think it really comes down to a responsibility and obligation to the profession that we have committed out careers too and I think its a bigger question for policymakers and will require a healthy amount of debate."
Some of Northern Light Health's hospitals have lower than 70% of staff vaccinated, including Northern Light Mayo in Dover-Foxcroft; Inland Hospital in Waterville; and Acadia Hospital in Bangor.
"There's work to do," said Bolin. "In those hospitals that have a lower rate than our system average, we want to focus to make sure that we're being respectful and caring for those employees and providing information and fact-based data to make their decision."
Northern Light Health is the second-largest health care system in Maine, behind MaineHealth. MaineHealth is currently not requiring vaccinations for staff, and told NEWS CENTER Maine on Monday they have nothing new to announce in regards to their vaccination policy.