COVID-19 swept through a nursing home in Kentucky in March, infecting dozens and killing three residents. It was a tragedy that simply did not have to happen.

While 90 percent of the home’s residents were fully vaccinated, only about half of the staff was – once one of the unvaccinated workers brought the illness into the building, it had no shortage of good targets.

Maine should take that as a warning. The Maine Hospital Association sees it that way, which is why the organization is calling for a state vaccine mandate for all health care workers.

We agree: No one walking into a hospital or nursing home should have to wonder whether the people who are supposed to be caring for them are actually putting them in danger.

Such a mandate would be nothing new. Worried about what a surge in patients suffering from the seasonal flu would do to already-overburdened hospitals, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention in April made that vaccine mandatory among all health care workers.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of hospital workers nationwide worked under some sort of flu vaccine mandate before the pandemic. In Maine, the CDC already requires health care workers to receive immunizations for a series of other illnesses.


The fact is, when an illness threatens public health and there’s a safe, effective vaccine against it, no reason exists for that vaccine not to be compulsory for health care workers. Hospitals and nursing homes are in the business of caring for people within a safe environment; workers who refuse vaccinations are threatening that safety.

At this point, no one – particularly health care workers, who you’d think would trust modern medicine – should have concerns about vaccine safety. The three vaccines now available to Americans were approved for emergency use after a thorough, if expedited, review in a trial involving tens of thousands of people.

Now, more than 157 million Americans are fully vaccinated. Billions more doses have been handed out worldwide. They have been shown to slow the spread of the virus, protect against severe disease, and relieve long-lasting symptoms, with only mild side effects.

If after all that, someone doesn’t want a shot, that’s up to them. But they shouldn’t work in health care.

A federal district court judge agreed recently while dismissing a lawsuit against Houston Methodist, one of the first health care systems in the country to mandate the COVID vaccine. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer,” the judge wrote.

Since that ruling, officials in states across the country have begun to implement mandates. Hospital leaders in Connecticut agreed to vaccine requirement, as have a number of the largest hospitals in Massachusetts.

The best way forward for Maine is a statewide mandate for all health care workers. While vaccinations of staff are high at some hospitals – including 92 percent at Millinocket Regional Hospital and 81 percent at Maine Medical Center in Portland – rates are as low as 58 percent at Central Maine Medical Center and 52.1 percent at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, both in Lewiston. There is wide variation in rates among nursing home staff, too, from a high of 91 percent at one facility to a low of just 25 percent at another.

Vaccination rates that low are asking for an outbreak. Maine shouldn’t tolerate more death and illness when it’s so easily preventable.

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