We may be called “Vacationland,” but you could argue that health care is really Maine’s signature industry,

It’s the state’s biggest employer, with nearly one in five people with jobs drawing a paycheck from a hospital, nursing home, rehabilitation center, medical office or clinic – jobs that are distributed in every corner of the state.

These people are on the front lines caring for the sick, injured and vulnerable  in all our communities – work that has never been more important than during this 18-month-long pandemic, which has killed more than 900 Mainers.

Recent outbreaks in health care facilities have highlighted an important fact: When COVID levels rise in the community, health care workers are at risk of catching and spreading the virus to each other and the people in their care.

Health care workers were first in line to receive the COVID vaccine when it reached the state late last year, and most took advantage of it. But the outbreaks indicate that many did not.

Gov. Mills is now “strongly considering” mandating COVID vaccines for all health care workers. We firmly encourage her to make this common-sense move without delay. With their exposure to the virus and their contact with sick people, they need every available protection.

With all the conflicting news about the COVID these days, it’s important to remember two important facts: Vaccines are safe, and vaccines work.

More than 300 million doses of approved COVID vaccines have been administered in the U.S., and all but a few people have experienced nothing worse than temporary muscle soreness or lack of energy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2 to 5 people per million have had an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any of the vaccines. Thirty-nine out of 13 million people (0.0003 percent) who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a serious but treatable blood clotting complication (thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome). The CDC has received reports of 6,490 deaths of people who had recently received a COVID vaccine dose, representing 0.0019 percent of doses, although clinical records do not establish a causal link between these deaths and the COVID vaccine.

It’s clear that unvaccinated Americans are thousands of times more likely to get sick or die from COVID than they are to get sick or die from the COVID vaccine. These vaccines are safe.

And they are effective. Even though there have been many well-publicized reports of breakthrough cases in which vaccinated people test positive, the vaccines are doing the job of preventing serious illness and death.

Even with the highly transmissible delta variant, fully immunized people accounted for less than 5 percent of COVID hospitalizations and less than 6 percent of deaths, according to an analysis done by The New York Times.

Vaccinated people who are infected with the virus pose the greatest risk to unvaccinated people – who make up 94 percent of the deaths.

Those odds do not favor delay.

Many Maine health care workers are already facing vaccine mandates. The state’s biggest hospital chains, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health, have announced that they will soon require all of their employees to be vaccinated. Smaller facilities, like nursing homes, have been cautious about requiring vaccination because there is so much competition for workers.

A statewide requirement for all health care workers would remove vaccination status as a factor in the competition.

People have a right to decide whether they want to be vaccinated, but they do not have a right to work in health care settings. There are too many health care workers in Maine who come into contact with too many vulnerable people to leave this door open to the spread of the virus.

Maine should require all health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID and do it as soon as possible.


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