By Kathreen Harrison
Any individual employed by a licensed hospital, multi-level healthcare facility, home health agency, nursing facility, residential care facility, and intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities in Maine must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1. The emergency rule, announced August 12, also requires those employed by emergency medical service organizations or dental practices to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The move is intended to protect the health and lives of Maine people, safeguard Maine’s healthcare capacity, and limit the spread of the virus.
“Healthcare workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine people, and it is imperative that they take every precaution against this dangerous virus, especially given the threat of the highly transmissible delta variant. With this requirement, we are protecting healthcare workers, their patients, including our most vulnerable, and our healthcare capacity. I continue to strongly urge all Maine people to get vaccinated because doing so may save your life, the life of a family member or friend, or the life of a child not yet eligible for a vaccine,” said Gov. Janet Mills in a statement to the press.
“Scientific data show that vaccination is our best protection against all strains of the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state of Maine already requires immunizations for employees of designated healthcare facilities for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, and influenza. Now the rule includes the COVID-19 vaccine. The organizations to which this requirement applies must ensure that each employee is vaccinated, with this requirement being enforced as a condition of the facilities’ licensure.
The new requirement was welcomed by a broad coalition of healthcare providers across Maine, including Maine Hospital Association, Maine Medical Association, Maine Primary Care Association, and Maine Health Care Association, along with the state’s two largest health systems, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health.
“Over 95% of physicians and nearly 200 million Americans have received a vaccine. It’s clear they are safe and highly effective,” said Karen Saylor, M.D., president of the Maine Medical Association. “The delta variant is much more aggressive and currently overwhelming hospitals across the country. Unvaccinated healthcare workers put sick patients and facility residents at risk. This is the next step in our state’s responsible path of keeping us ready with the staff and space needed to care for all Mainers at risk of severe illness or death.”
Maine is the third best state in the nation in the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated. From a total that includes children under 12 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, more than 64% of all Maine residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Maine also continues to make progress in vaccinating younger people, with more than 50% of youth ages 12 to 19 being fully vaccinated.
Despite having the oldest median age population in the country, when adjusted for population Maine ranks fourth lowest in the nation in hospitalizations over the last two weeks, third lowest in total number of cases, and fourth lowest in number of deaths from COVID-19, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Where to get vaccinated
COVID-19 vaccines are available at no charge at sites across the state. For information on getting a vaccine, please visit Maine.gov/covid19/vaccines, call the Community Vaccination Line at (888) 445-4111, or email [email protected] and staff will contact the COVID-19 Community Support program, which has multilingual staff. Those who are unable to get to a vaccine site because of any barrier such as childcare or caretaking responsibilities, transportation, or health issues can use the same contact information and a nurse with an interpreter will provide vaccinations at home.
Recommendations for the general public, immunocompromised individuals, teachers
The Maine CDC recommends that when people go indoors in public settings they put on a mask.
The recommendation is based on a sharp increase in the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state because of the delta variant. The policy is intended to protect those who are unvaccinated and who thus are most at risk of becoming severely ill or dying. The delta variant is believed to reproduce more quickly in the body than the original virus. Vaccinated individuals may be able to spread the virus to others, even if they themselves do not become severely ill.
On August 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the administration of an additional dose of the vaccine for certain people with compromised immune systems, including organ transplant recipients. Individuals who think they may qualify should consult their doctors to determine eligibility.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, supports vaccine mandates for public school teachers, however, no state currently requires teachers to be vaccinated. Experts indicate that the delta variant might be more dangerous for younger people, but children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination in the U.S. Authorization and recommendations for children could come before the end of 2021.