Another shoe of the centipede that is COVID-19 has dropped. Governor Janet Mills announced on Aug. 12 that all health-care workers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. Though Governor Mills terminated her “State of Civil Emergency” on June 30, she used existing state law to add the COVID vaccine to a list of other vaccinations required (measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B and influenza) of health-care workers.
Her press release listed those covered as the employees of state-licensed health-care facilities including “a hospital, multi-level health-care facility, home health agency, nursing facility, residential care facility and intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” as well as employees of emergency medical services or dental practices. Failure of a facility to comply could result in a loss of licensure.
Over the last few weeks our state has had the third highest vaccination rate in the country and the third lowest total number of cases. This is not a coincidence. Maine was fourth lowest in COVID hospitalizations and COVID deaths. Every person who is vaccinated has contributed to that achievement. Everyone who is not (excusing the under-12s and those who are medically unable to be safely vaccinated) is taking us in the wrong direction.
When public health becomes political, we have a problem. Why the furor about COVID vaccinations when employees have dutifully trotted off to get these other vaccinations for decades? Welcome to our world. It is a perversion of any notion of “freedom.” Can people really believe that among our rights is the right to jeopardize the health, indeed the life, of a 10-year-old for whom there is not yet a vaccine?
There are still some people who rail against wearing a seat belt, but mostly we do it. Is there anyone who would not put a baby in a car seat? But to be asked to wear a mask as COVID cases increase all around us is an unacceptable infringement on our liberty.
The passion for individual rights seems to stop the moment someone disagrees with you. It seems there is no right to support masks, only to oppose them. People who stood up in public to express support for mask mandates in schools were screamed at and threatened. “We know who you are! We will find you!” And what? Toilet-paper their trees? Beat them up? Kill them?
The Governor’s leadership on the issue was welcome. Her order, she maintained, is also a matter of rights. “You and your family have a right to expect that everybody who cares for you … is fully vaccinated.”
Many Maine health-care facilities had already indicated that a vaccine mandate for their employees was in the works and were quick to voice their support for her action. CEOs of Maine hospitals and other health-care institutions are standing with her.
There is a growing sentiment, and not just among health-care providers, that there is an obligation to protect the public, be they patients or staff. Some states have allowed alternatives to vaccination, such as weekly testing or wearing a mask. For Maine health workers there are no such options. The only pass is if a physician will certify a medical risk to vaccination.
Patience has worn thin with vaccination refusers as case numbers rise, mask recommendations are again part of daily life and we are once again deterred from eating out or gathering with friends. Some indoor events are being canceled. Greater compliance would have put all that behind us, but compliance turned out to be a hard sell.
Maine Medical Center’s Emergency Department had an outbreak of 10 staffers who tested positive for COVID. Waldo County General Hospital also reported eight staff members testing positive. Hospital and other health-care facility administrators have been worried sick.
Chrissi Maguire, CEO of Mount Desert Island Hospital, cited the following statistics as contributing to her hospital’s decision to require personnel to be vaccinated once the FDA moves beyond Emergency Use Authorization to full vaccine approval: “An unvaccinated person is about 50 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than a vaccinated person, and nearly 300 times more likely to die if infected.”
A press release from Northern Light Health (including Ellsworth’s Maine Coast and Blue Hill Hospital) indicates all of Hancock County’s hospitals are on the same page. As Maguire said: “We are very much in support of … providing the safest environment for care. Our goal is to work with our entire workforce to move towards 100 percent compliance for vaccination or qualified waivers.”
Mainers are the stuff of legend when it comes to independence, but they are also noted for practicality and common sense. Staunch defenders of constitutional rights, they are generous and caring with friends and neighbors. Mainers, it’s time to step up.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.