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Mills Delays Vaccine Mandate For Health Care Workers By A Month

Janet Mills
Robert F. Bukaty
Gov. Janet Mills wears a face covering while walking through the halls of the State House, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Augusta, Maine.

Health care workers in Maine will now have until Oct. 29 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The previous vaccine deadline was Oct. 1, but the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday that it would begin enforcing the mandate four weeks later in order to give workers more time to get their shots.

The agency says the extra time will also allow health care providers to use $146 million in additional state funds announced earlier this week to help recruit and retain workers.

Some health care workers have resisted the mandate and even left their positions, but state officials note that some providers have seen their staff vaccination rates increase since the directive was announced last month.

The Maine CDC says the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine should satisfy anyone's concerns about safety of the vaccine. When 19 of 33 outbreaks of COVID in the state are tied to infected healthcare workers who are not vaccinated, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah says the risk is obvious.

"The question on the table today is what's the bigger risk, COVID-19 or the vaccine? The biggest risk out there for healthcare workers and non healthcare workers is COVI-19," Shah says.

The Maine CDC says the testing and retesting of healthcare workers could be reduced if more of them would get vaccinated. State health officials announced 624 new cases of COVID in Maine Thursday, the highest daily total since the peak of the pandemic in January. Dr. Shah says 29 of the new cases are healthcare workers, and that puts a strain on staffing and other resources at hospitals fighting the latest COVID surge in the state.

The Maine CDC also said Thursday that it is facing a short supply of COVID tests as the surge of COVID-19 cases continues. Maine Dr. Shah says one of the biggest challenges is getting adequate testing in the community to identify outbreaks quickly. He says 19 of 33 outbreaks have been in healthcare facilities that require frequent testing which strains supplies.

"Healthcare facility outbreaks require frequented repeated large scale testing. That means state labs are responding to outbreak testing," Shah says.

Dr. Shah says the CDC is working with manufacturers to increase supplies. Testing locations and testing hours at pharmacies are being expanded. And public testing sites in high traffic areas like the Portland Jetport are being added.

Dr. Shah says most outbreaks involve unvaccinated individuals, and the COVID vaccine is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.