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Proposal Requiring Flu Vaccines For Maine Health Workers Draws Opposition

Luca Bruno
Associated Press
A nurse injects flu vaccine at the Museum of science and technology in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

A proposed new rule from the Maine CDC that would require health care workers to get a seasonal flu shot, drew some opposition at a public hearing on Monday. Opponents question the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, while others say it would impinge on personal freedoms.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention already requires health care workers to be immunized for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella, as well as hepatitis B. The new rule would add a flu shot to the list and also give CDC the authority to require other vaccinations during a public emergency.

A number of health care providers testified in opposition to the rule, including Portland Dr. Pamela Shervanick.

“I would like to speak against mandating a flu shot under any circumstances. Medical freedom is necessary to protect each individual. No two individuals have the same biology and what is harmless to one person can end the life of another,” she said.

Several registered nurses argued that the science is not conclusive that flu shots effectively prevent the spread of flu in health care settings, and nurse Lisa Miller warned that the rule would prompt many of her colleagues in Maine to leave the profession.

“By forcing health care workers to receive the flu shot or get fired, you are forcing them to choose whether or not to compromise their religious beliefs, their health, even their knowledge, for a job that they love,” she said.

But others spoke in support of the proposed rule.

“We want to be sure that our valued providers are safe and that they are able to keep our children safe. As parents, we trust their expertise and the evidence. Let’s listen to the real experts when it comes to advocating for public policy,” said Caitlin Gilmet, a founder of Maine Families for Vaccines, which has successfully pushed to remove nonmedical exemptions to school vaccination requirements.

And Dan Morin of the Maine Medical Association said a number of professional health organizations, including his own, support mandating flu immunizations for health care providers.

“The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the Infectious Disease Society of America have all released statements supporting mandatory influenza vaccinations for health care personnel,” he said.

While the proposed rule does not directly mention a mandate for COVID-19 vaccines, it would allow the CDC to require health care workers to get immunizations if and when the governor declares a public health emergency. Critics argue that oversteps the rulemaking authority of CDC.

Written public comment will be accepted by the CDC until 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.