COVID-19 vaccination rates among the state’s emergency medical service providers has been soaring recently, according to a survey conducted for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The survey released Wednesday shows that 96.9 percent of EMS licensees have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The survey was done last week by Maine Emergency Medical Services.

Emergency responder departments and municipalities had expressed grave concerns that a state-imposed vaccination mandate might result in the loss of staff, but those concerns should be lessened by the fact that nearly 97 percent of workers have been vaccinated, Maine EMS said.

“Maine’s EMS personnel are some of the best in the world. They are professional, courteous, and will do everything in their power to provide the safest and most effective care possible,” Sam Hurley, director of Maine EMS, said in a statement. “These strong vaccination rates further demonstrate this fact and underscore that Maine EMS personnel are committed to protecting the health and safety of those they are charged with caring for.”

The survey found that 164 workers, out of all the agencies that participated in the survey, were unvaccinated. Cumberland County was the highest with 23 unvaccinated workers, followed by Piscataquis County with 21, Penobscot with 19 and York with 16.

On Aug. 12, the Mills administration announced that health care workers in Maine must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1 in order to limit the spread of the virus and to protect Maine people. The governor followed up that mandate by saying it would begin enforcing the mandate on Oct. 29, providing health care workers with an additional month to complete their vaccination protocols.

EMS services across the state have suffered staffing shortages for years. Earlier this month, emergency medical providers warned that the state’s vaccine mandate was making bad staffing situations worse, forcing some departments to the breaking point.

“We’re trying to turn around calls as quickly as we can so we can get the truck back in town for the next call,” Lisa Bennett, rescue chief at Turner Rescue, told the Lewiston Sun Journal. Recent resignations left Turner Rescue down two positions. “But, we’re having 55-minute wait times in the emergency room to transfer the patient. You feel horrible taking a patient to the ER, knowing they are going to sit there for hours.”

Maine EMS, recognizing that there are staffing shortages across the state, has begun working with counties to expand mutual-aid agreements to support EMS infrastructure in a service area. Mutual-aid agreements help municipalities confront a shortage of workers.

“When Maine people call 911, an ambulance will be on its way and we will continue to work with any agencies that are confronting the longstanding problem of staff shortages,” Hurley said. “In my conversations with local officials, I have often heard that low wages and other local issues are significant hardships, and I am grateful that many local officials have committed to prioritizing EMS and public safety staff as an essential service.”

Meanwhile, state health officials reported 649 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and seven additional deaths. The seven-day daily case average is now 491, which is down slightly from 589 cases on average two weeks ago but nearly unchanged from 485 cases this time last month.

Virus transmission continues to be heaviest in the state’s least vaccinated counties. The highest rate of transmission over the last seven days has been in Somerset County, which has the state’s lowest vaccination. On the other end, Cumberland County has the highest rate of vaccination by far and the lowest rate of transmission over the last seven days.

Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident commander for Northern Light Health, said his facilities are still seeing “significant spread of disease throughout our communities and people should take note of that.”

Across the country, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been declining for weeks, even though transmission remains high in many areas. The seven-day case average in the U.S. is just over 75,000, which is about half what it was this time last month.

TRANSMISSION HIGH IN NORTHEAST

Still, many northeast states, including Maine – where the delta variant took hold later than in other areas – have yet to see much of a downward trend. New Hampshire’s seven-day case average has increased from 478 to 688 in the last two weeks, and Vermont’s average has risen from 163 per day to 231 during that time.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine decreased to 199 on Wednesday, with 68 individuals in critical care and 34 on ventilators. Hospitalizations had started to decrease after peaking at 235 on Sept. 25 – reaching a low of 152 on Oct. 7 before starting to rise again. In the U.S., the average number of daily hospitalizations is 52,146, which is down 20 percent from two weeks earlier, according to the U.S. CDC.

The overwhelming majority of people hospitalized continue to either be unvaccinated or vaccinated but older and with other serious health conditions. A recent CDC study found that unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

As for vaccinations, the state has now administered 897,084 final doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That represents 66.7 percent of all Mainers and 75.8 percent of those 12 and older who are eligible. Children between 5-11 could be eligible for a lower dose of the Pfizer vaccine as early as next month pending federal authorization.

Maine also has administered 66,065 third doses of Pfizer vaccine, mostly to individuals 65 and older and those who are immunocompromised. So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been recommended for additional doses, but boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines soon could be added.


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