Jun. 24—LEWISTON — New data from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services show that of the state's 38 hospitals, health care workers at Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center have the lowest vaccination rates, but officials from the Lewiston hospital say the way the data was collected skews the full picture.
The data released earlier this week shows that 58.1% of CMMC's 1,144 staff members and 52.1% of St. Mary's nearly 2,000 staff are fully vaccinated as of May 31. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as well as the state of Maine, require hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory surgical centers and other care facilities to submit this data by the seventh of each month with data as of the last day of the previous month, according to the Maine DHHS's health care vaccination dashboard.
Staff members include "all employees, temporary or contracted personnel and volunteers and students who are providing care, services and interacting with facility residents and staff," both clinical and nonclinical, the dashboard said.
This definition of "staff" bloats the total number of health care workers beyond who might be in the hospital on a typical day and is not an accurate picture of vaccination rates, St. Mary's spokesperson Steve Costello said Wednesday.
The vaccination rate of the approximately 1,500 full-time staff is around 65%, Costello said. An "error" contributed to St. Mary's staff being the least vaccinated hospital workforce in the state because the number St. Mary's submitted included all students and volunteers, including those who are not active but still exist in the hospital's database. The hospital would not have asked the inactive volunteers for their vaccination status, he said.
Costello said the hospital will correct that when it submits its June numbers next month.
"It's better (than May's numbers), not where we want it to be, but it's certainly better," he said.
A 65% vaccination rate would take St. Mary's out of the bottom spot, but not by much. About 74% of all hospital workers in the state are fully vaccinated.
CMMC's chief medical officer, Dr. John Alexander, said he thinks that a greater percentage of their workforce is vaccinated, also due to inflated staff numbers or staff who got vaccinated elsewhere but didn't report it to CMMC, or both.
But Alexander also acknowledged that CMMC's numbers are also aligned with that of the surrounding communities, which have been behind the rest of the state in getting shots into arms since the beginning of the vaccine rollout.
"We think the (Maine DHHS's) number is lower than the real number. But that being said, I probably don't disagree with the number as it directly relates to the fact that, you know, we live in a county where the overall vaccination rates in the county that is one of the lower numbers of the state," Alexander said.
s of Thursday, 48.6% of all Androscoggin County residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 49.5% had received their final shot. Franklin and Oxford counties' numbers were lower.
When considering just the population eligible to receive a vaccine, or individuals 12 years and older, 56.8% of Androscoggin County residents had their first jab and 57.7% had completed their inoculations. In Franklin County, 53% and 54.8% of eligible residents had gotten their first and second shots, respectively; and in Oxford County, 50.2% and 55.1% of eligible residents had gotten their first and second shots, respectively.
Statewide, 62.5% of all eligible Mainers have gotten at least one shot and 65.1% are fully vaccinated, leaving central and western Maine trailing behind most of the state's 16 counties.
Alexander estimated the clinical staff — doctors, nurses and other patient-facing personnel — are highly vaccinated and that the nonclinical staff are still left to reach.
Both hospitals are working on outreach and education to encourage all staff to get their shots.
Costello, from St. Mary's, and Alexander said their respective hospitals does not have an official policy for staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Alexander said the hospital is not discussing making the vaccine mandatory: "We wouldn't mandate a vaccine that hasn't been fully approved by the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)," he said.
The three COVID-19 vaccinations available in the U.S. — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — were granted emergency use authorization by the FDA, a mechanism to "facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies," according to the agency.
Medical professionals and public health officials, including Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah, have stressed that the vaccines still went through the same rigorous clinical trials as a fully approved vaccine and the safety and effectiveness of all three.
At a news briefing Wednesday, Shah called the vaccination rates from CMMC and St. Mary's "concerning."
"Time will tell what the exact reasons for those numbers are but make no mistake, No. 1, they are concerning. And two, the question is the extent to which they are reflections of case rates in Androscoggin County or whether they may even play a role in those cases," Shah said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all health care workers get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"If you're a health care worker, I think if you haven't been vaccinated already, now again, there is no better time to get vaccinated to protect yourself from potential exposure as well as to protect your patients," Shah said.
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