BIW worker Matthew Peters gets his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccination earlier this month at the Maine National Guard’s on-site clinic at the Bath shipyard. “I’m getting it because both my mother and sister have been fighting breast cancer for the last year. I figure if this is what I can do to help out then it’s a small price to pay. It’s just the right thing to do, to protect people who are already sick and are predisposed.” Photo courtesy of BIW

Just shy of 890 Bath Iron Works employees rolled up their sleeves to receive a COVID-19 vaccine this month though Maine National Guard vaccination clinics at company facilities as the shipyard continues to report new COVID-19 cases.

“Having close to 1,000 shipbuilders get vaccinated through the on-site clinics in addition to the significant percentage who opted to get vaccinated on their own outside of work is helping stop the spread of COVID-19 and enable us to resume many of our normal activities,” BIW spokesman David Hench wrote in a statement to The Times Record.

The Maine National Guard returned to the shipyard Thursday for a second round of clinics to distribute the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Those clinics are scheduled to run into early next month, according to the company’s website. Hench said any employees interested in getting vaccinated can receive their first doses during this second round of clinics.

The shipyard continues to urge employees to get vaccinated “in order to keep ourselves, our families and all of Maine safe.”

“Getting vaccinated is a personal choice, however, we strongly encourage it for the health and safety of employees and their loved ones,” Hench wrote Thursday. “Vaccination remains the best line of defense against COVID-19 and the most effective way to return to all our pre-pandemic activities.”

BIW machinist Max Fortin said, though he “had his doubts” he got vaccinated through the BIW clinics because ““My wife works as a pre-school bus driver and she had to get it for work, so I figured I should too.” Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Max Fortin, a BIW employee of 18 years, said he “had his doubts” about the vaccine initially, but decided to get vaccinated through the BIW clinics earlier this month.

“My wife works as a preschool bus driver and she had to get it for work, so I figured I should too,” said Fortin. “I like being able to see people’s faces again.”

Likewise, BIW shipfitter Alex Encinias received his first dose of the vaccine through a BIW clinic Thursday because he figured “I get the flu shot every year, so I might as well.”

BIW worker Joshua Diaz said he doesn’t see himself getting vaccinated in the foreseeable future because “I don’t believe in (COVID-19).”

Machinist Rob Karwanski said he hasn’t rolled up his sleeve because he had COVID-19 and cited the virus’s high survival rate.

“If I’m already 99% immune, what would the vaccine give me?” said Karwanski.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Spokesman Robert Long said the on-site clinics are “one of many vaccination options available to shipyard employees, so it’s likely that shipbuilders were vaccinated against COVID-19 in other venues as well.”

“All three authorized COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and extremely effective in reducing deaths or severe symptoms associated with COVID-19, as well as reducing the chances that vaccinated people could contract or transmit the virus,” said Long. “Getting vaccinated is the best thing that employees can do for themselves, their families, and their co-workers.”

Hench said the BIW doesn’t know precisely how many employees have been vaccinated outside the Maine National Guard clinics because “employees do not have to disclose their vaccination status” to the company.

Although at least roughly 13% of BIW’s 7,000 employees got inoculated though the clinics alone, the company continues to report new COVID-19 cases among its workforce each week.

BIW confirmed 178 COVID-19 cases so far this month, as of Thursday. In the past two weeks, 63 BIW workers tested positive, according to the company’s website.

There were 149 COVID-19 reported 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 March 2020 when the pandemic reached Maine, 694 BIW workers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the shipyard. Of those, 474 employees worked in the main shipyard in Bath.

Within Bath, 73% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of May 17, according to the Maine CDC. Regionally, 61% of Sagadahoc County’s eligible population was fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

As of Thursday, 1,453 people in Sagadahoc County have tested positive for COVID-19 and 10 have died, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 67,416 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 825 have died as of Thursday.

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