SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The owner of a South Portland child care center is requiring her staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine before the facility opens on August 30 in order to offer the children the most protection possible from the virus.
Children under age 12 cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine yet. Kids under the age of 2 should not wear a mask, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
"Children between the ages of zero and two who don't have the choice to be masked or vaccinated are completely exposed to the delta variant," said Hollie McLachlan, owner of Chickadee Infant & Toddler Care in South Portland. "Are kids safe with people who are unvaccinated? No. Are kids safer with people who are vaccinated who wear masks? Yes. For us, it became company policy. It just made common sense to us."
She said roughly 90% of families, both enrolled and on a waitlist of more than 100 people, have asked if her staff is vaccinated.
McLachlan said five people she interviewed for positions at the center decided to get the vaccine in order to get the job, while others turned down the job due to the requirement.
"We would welcome them back as soon as they get the vaccine," she said.
She requires any staff interacting with children to be vaccinated and to wear masks.
Public health leaders say even vaccinated people can carry the delta variant of the virus in their nose and mouth, potentially spreading it to kids who do not have the choice to get the shot or wear a mask.
"Right now in the U.S., we are seeing more children hospitalized due to COVID than any other time during this pandemic," said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Chief Health Improvement Officer for MaineHealth.
The U.S. CDC encourages staff and families of kids at child care facilities to get vaccinated to limit any effect on kids who cannot wear a mask or get the shot.
"Those parents being unvaccinated are really providing a link to the disease to that whole child care," Mills said.
McLachlan, who has a four-year-old, Betsy, and 11-month-old, Odin, knows the anxiety parents feel when dropping children off with child care workers who are taking on the role of parent for the day.
"For me and Amy, my business partner, this is a no-brainer. It's our responsibility to protect our tiniest Mainers," said McLachlan. "Nothing says, 'I love you,' like, 'I'm going to do everything in my power to protect you.'"
McLachlan also said she is in favor of a statewide mandate to require child care workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and said a rule from the state is "overdue."
In a statement, a Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said:
The Department continues to encourage staff of child care facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19, to protect their health and safety and the wellbeing of the children in their care who are too young to be vaccinated. Vaccination offers the best protection against the virus, which is why child care staff were among the first groups made eligible for the vaccine earlier this year. Vaccine remains free and widely available throughout the state.
Our child care licensing specialists stand ready to answer any questions facilities may have about access to vaccination for their staff. The Mills Administration continues to support businesses’ efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep their establishments safe, including child care facilities, by exercising their right to require employees to be vaccinated.
Maine child care providers have performed admirably throughout the pandemic to serve their communities and keep children safe and healthy. As of today, 98 percent of child care providers are open statewide, up from a low of just over 50 percent at the start of the pandemic.