A masked-up Gorham Town Council Tuesday rejected a resolve opposing the state-mandated vax for health care workers. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Gorham town councilors Tuesday rejected a proposed resolution opposing a state mandate for health care workers, including emergency rescue personnel, to receive COVID-19 vaccines or face losing their jobs.

Councilor Benjamin Hartwell’s resolution was defeated by five of the seven councilors: James Hager, Virginia Wilder Cross, Ronald Shepard, Janet Kuech and Council Chairperson Lee Pratt. Hartwell and Vice Chairperson Suzanne Phillips voted in favor.

Passage of the resolution would not have exempted the town from the state mandate, but would have put the town on record as opposing it. It read, in part, that “the Gorham Town Council hereby recognizes that the State of Maine has gone too far by mandating that certain employees receive COVID-19 vaccinations by threatening them with their loss of employment if they choose to wait to be vaccinated.”

The state required Maine health care workers, including those in hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and dental offices, as well as firefighters and emergency medical personnel, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1. Enforcement of the mandate begins Oct. 29.

Hartwell’s resolution said COVID-19 vaccinations were developed at “an exceptionally fast pace,” have caused side effects in “some patients” and “have not been available long enough to understand the long-term effects.” It said the Town Council believes in promoting benefits of vaccination through education.

“I would like to make it clear it is not anti-vaccine,” said Harwell, who has been vaccinated. “People have a right to be cautious.”

Phillips favored the resolution out of concern about job losses.

“I think the state is forcing people to make a choice,” she said.

Four members of the Call Company have been placed on administrative leave without pay because of the vaccine requirement, according to Gorham Fire Chief Ken Fickett, but there have been “no full-time people lost to the vaccine mandate.”

Some Gorham firefighters were concerned with the risk of the vaccine and didn’t want to take it, Hartwell said in an email to the American Journal.

“It was the threat of the loss of employment that caused them to roll up their sleeves,” he  said.

Hartwell told of a friend, a Boston Marathon qualified runner, who can’t run now after taking the COVID-19 vaccination because his breathing was impacted.

Pratt said he couldn’t back the resolution.

“It’s a state mandate,” Pratt said, but he told Hartwell, “I truly see what you are trying to do.”

Councilor Virginia Wilder Cross referred to a doctor’s communication about the resolution. The doctor, who opposed adopting the resolution, objected to negative wording, Wilder Cross said.

The role of the state  is to protect everyone, said Councilor James Hager, who also commended Hartwell for having a “lot of courage” to offer the resolution.

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