EDITORIAL: COVID politics put Maine lives at risk

·3 min read

Oct. 14—Every health care worker in Maine is required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B and influenza.

As of Oct. 1, they are also required to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

How is this last vaccine mandate different from the others? Why are a few otherwise vaccinated health care workers in Maine threatening to quit their jobs before they will accept vaccines that have already been safely administered to 3.7 billion people worldwide?

It's politics. And it's shameful.

Republican politicians have amplified the ideas of a few quacks and charlatans in the hopes of developing a weapon they can use against Democrats in the next election. Instead of telling their supporters that they should follow science-based public health rules built on a firm, century-old legal foundation, they are coddling the vaccine hesitant and encouraging the spreaders of misinformation.

Republican legislative leaders wrote Gov. Janet Mills this week to demand that unvaccinated health care workers should continue to able to care for vulnerable patients if they submit to regular testing.

They make this demand even though they know that testing is no substitute for vaccination, and that a pending federal rule superseding state rules will soon require all health care workers to be vaccinated for COVID, with no testing option.

They know that the only real options for health care workers are to get vaccinated or find another line of work. It makes no sense to delay that decision, putting people who are already sick enough to be in a health care facility, including children too young to be vaccinated, at risk of catching a very transmissible disease.

This allegedly principled stand makes no sense when you consider the relative risks of the diseases for which health care workers have been vaccinated.

There were 13 cases of measles nationwide in 2020, and there have been 37 so far this year. In roughly the same period of time, there have been 44.6 million cases of COVID and more than 700,000 deaths.

The pandemic is far from over in Maine. We are averaging nearly 400 new cases a day and hospitals are turning away patients because they are so busy caring for COVID patients. Administrators at Central Maine Health Care, the parent company of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, have petitioned Mills to relax the rules, saying as many as 230 employees, in a workforce of 3,000, could quit or be fired over the vaccine mandate by the end of the month.

But that prospect does not seem likely when you look at other large hospital groups. MaineHealth and Northern Light Health Care do not anticipate staff shortages on their care teams when the state begins enforcing the rule.

Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew reported Wednesday that Millinocket Hospital has 100 percent of its staff fully vaccinated well ahead of the deadline.

Every health care worker has until Friday to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine so they will be considered fully vaccinated by Oct. 29. They should take this deadline seriously. It's irresponsible to let them cling to a fantasy that they won't have to follow the rules.

All of Maine's leaders should put their party labels aside for a moment and do what's best for the people of the state.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent sickness and death. Encouraging health care workers to hold out any longer is political malpractice.

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