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With the mandate looming, vaccinations rose sharply among Maine health care workers in September

Virus Outbreak Vaccine Rhode Island
Elise Amendola
A new COVID-19 vaccine is picked up to be administered to a Lifespan Health Care worker, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Providence, R.I.

COVID-19 vaccination rates among health care workers in Maine increased in September. New state data show averages across facilities are at least 85%, as a state deadline for requiring that health care workers be fully vaccinated is just weeks away. The loss of staff at some facilities is already causing issues, and state officials say they are standing firm on the Oct. 29 deadline.

The biggest increases in average vaccination rates were at assisted living and intermediate care facilities, up by more than 10 percentage points and into the mid-to-upper 80s. The average for nursing homes also saw a boost from roughly 78% to 85%. And hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers climbed above 90%.

Despite those high averages, rates at some individual facilities are significantly lower. And hospitals such as Lewiston-based Central Maine Medical Center, which has an 85% vaccination rate, have had to cut back on services because key staff have resigned. On Wednesday Maine Health Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew defended the state's mandate.

"We have had literally dozens of outbreaks in healthcare facilities, over 300, as well as seen thousand of health care workers test positive for this dangerous and highly transmissible disease," Lambrew said.

Lambrew said it's the virus - not vaccination- that is stressing health care facilities. She said the Mills administration is working with hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that are dealing with staffing shortages.

Though the averages are high, they can vary widely at individual facilities. Some nursing homes report rates as low as 19%. The Mills Administration will begin enforcing a mandate at the end of the month that requires health care workers be fully vaccinated or lose their jobs