The Maine National Guard will hold COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Bath Iron Works beginning Thursday. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record

The Maine National Guard will hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics for Bath Iron Works employees beginning Thursday, as cases at the shipyard have increased sharply in recent weeks.

The vaccines will be available to employees of Bath Iron Works both at the shipyard in Bath and at off-site locations, according to a release from the company Friday. One of the state’s largest employers, BIW has been encouraging employees to get vaccinated in recent weeks as new cases at the shipyard continue to be reported.

The shipyard, with a workforce of roughly 6,900, reported 149 COVID-19 cases among employees in April, according to the company website.  The company had reported 37 new cases in March, 64 in February and 137 in January. Since the pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, BIW has reported more than 516 COVID-19 cases, according to the company website.

BIW requested the vaccination clinics and worked with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine National Guard to set them up, said Maj. Carl Lamb, public affairs officer for the Maine National Guard.

The Maine National Guard will be using its Department of Defense allocation of vaccine to conduct the clinics, Lamb said. Department of Defense vaccines can be used in cases where they are helping to provide “critical national capabilities,” Lamb wrote in an email to the Press Herald.

BIW officials have repeatedly said the shipyard cannot close because of COVID-19 due to its designation as “critical infrastructure” because it builds destroyers for the Navy. In a written message to employees last month, BIW President Dirk Lesko said the company’s “performance was improving” and that it was making progress on “our overarching goal of reaching a build rate of two ships per year.”

Lamb said the Maine National Guard has been involved in COVID-19 responses since the beginning of the pandemic and has worked in administrative support capacities at vaccination sites in Augusta, Auburn and Scarborough. About a dozen guardsmen will on site for the BIW clinic, Lamb said.

In announcing the vaccine clinic in a release Friday, BIW officials said no employees would be forced to get the vaccine. BIW is a subsidiary of aerospace and defense company General Dynamics.

“While the decision to be vaccinated is voluntary, the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 and an important tool in stopping the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the release said in part.

As of Friday, 632,707 Mainers – or 47 percent of the population – had gotten their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The number of Mainers who were fully vaccinated stood at 512,381 or 38 percent of the population.

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