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Two of Maine's largest hospital systems won't require employees to be vaccinated

MaineHealth and Northern Light Health are leaving it up to workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, for now.

BANGOR, Maine — Some hospitals around the country are requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to keep their jobs. Last week, more than 150 employees at a hospital system in Houston, Texas were fired or resigned after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This brings up the question, will Maine hospitals require their employees to get the vaccine?

"For COVID-19, to date, our focus remains on voluntary vaccination, education, and outreach," says Northern Light Health director of public relations Karen Cashman. 

Northern Light Health operates Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and other hospitals across Maine, including Portland's Northern Light Mercy Hospital. 

"We are aware of the changes at other organizations across the nation, and we are consulting with clinical experts at the state on the best approach," explains Cashman. 

MaineHealth, the state's largest health care network, denied NEWS CENTER Maine's request for an interview. 

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John Porter, a spokesman for MaineHealth referred us to its frequently asked questions webpage where it states, "While the COVID-19 vaccine has gone through the trials and steps that would normally be required of any vaccine, and it has been shown to be both safe and effective, as it is a new vaccine, MaineHealth is not requiring care team members to receive it as is the case with the flu vaccination. Still, we urge all eligible care team members to educate themselves and take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their safety and that of their colleagues and patients."

Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor is also not mandating its nearly 900 employees to get the vaccine. Chief Medical Doctor Noah Nesin says, despite this, around 70% of its employees say they've gotten the vaccine. 

"We want to respect the agency of our employees, just as we do our patients," says Nesin. "We may reconsider that in the future when the vaccine has the full approval from the FDA, if the delta variant behaves the way we think it will behave in the fall and winter, and becomes more of a problem, or if the state or CDC create a mandate.” 

RELATED: Yes, a fully vaccinated person exposed to the Delta variant could transmit COVID-19 to others

Dr. John Alexander is the chief medical officer for Central Maine Healthcare – the health system Central Maine Medical Center is part of. Alexander says while they're not requiring team members to receive vaccines that are available under Emergency Use Authorization, they will evaluate their position on COVID-19 vaccine mandates as their FDA approval status evolves. 

"We continue to strongly encourage all of our team members to be vaccinated to protect themselves, their families, and the communities we serve. The pandemic is not yet over. Vaccines provide significant protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and variants of the coronavirus," adds Alexander. 

On Tuesday, The Maine Hospital Association announced it wants the state to mandate all healthcare workers get the COVID-19 vaccination once the federal government grants full approval for the vaccines. 

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to the Mills administration for comment. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention's communications director Robert Long provided a statement saying, "Maine CDC cannot speculate on future rulemaking as it relates to COVID-19 vaccination, for which all three authorized vaccines remain under U.S. FDA Emergency Authorization Status.

St. Joseph Healthcare in Bangor denied our request for an interview and wouldn't say if they will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Cary Medical Center in Caribou did not respond to NEWS CENTER Maine's multiple requests for an interview.