One of Maine’s largest healthcare networks, Northern Light Health, will ask all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as one or more vaccines receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We carefully considered research, data and trends – and safety must continue to be our absolute priority,” Tim Dentry, president and CEO of Northern Light Health, said in a news release Monday. “Getting vaccinated is the single most important and responsible step each of us can take.”

Northern Light is the latest healthcare provider in Maine to announce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees after Millinocket Regional Hospital last week became the first hospital in Maine to say it would require the vaccine following full FDA approval.

A spokeswoman for Northern Light, which includes Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, said last week that 79 percent of the network’s 12,342 staff were inoculated.

Northern Light will require employees to become vaccinated within six weeks of full vaccine approval. Vaccination will be a condition of employment and there will be very few exceptions, the network said in its release.

Dentry said the decision could be unsettling for some employees and he said he and other network leaders have been listening to questions and concerns from employees and others about the safety of the vaccine.

“Our preference has always been to help staff make the right choice to receive the vaccine as soon as possible,” he said. “When the emergency use is lifted and with clinical guidance, we will know the time is right to require it for all Northern Light employees.”

National Nurses United, the largest union and professional organization for registered nurses in the United States, said in a statement last week that the organization agrees with employers and elected officials who have announced mandates that vaccination is a critically important part of a comprehensive public health program for infection control.

“We strongly believe all eligible people should be vaccinated, while respecting the need for medical and religious accommodations,” the union said.

A spokesman for MaineHealth, the state’s largest healthcare network with 23,000 employees, said the network remains in discussions about whether or not to require employees to get the vaccine. As of last week about 87 percent of MaineHealth employees were vaccinated.

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