AUGUSTA — The head of the Maine Center for Disease Control said Tuesday there will likely be consideration about mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for certain groups of workers, like nursing home employees.

Now, however, the focus is on providing incentives for people to get the shot, Dr. Nirav Shah said.

“We’ve only had the vaccines for a short period of time,” Shah said. “Now the focus has been on creating incentives for folks to get vaccinated, why it’s an important thing to do and the ways in which it can keep them safe.”

That said, there will be future discussions as a state, as a nation, about whether COVID-19 vaccination should be mandated for any groups, he said.

“Right now I don’t know where the discussion is,” he said.

He said there are concerns that the vaccines are not fully vetted by the (Federal Drug Administration), “so we’re going to see where that discussion goes,” Shah said.

COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory for long-term care staff, Nadine Grosso of the Maine Health Care Association said. The association represents nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Maine.

“That said, it is strongly encouraged and MHCA continues to support members in educational efforts around the vaccine,” Grosso said.

Some private organizations, such as colleges and universities, have said students will not be allowed to live in dorms this fall unless they’re vaccinated, said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Whether vaccines should be mandated for certain groups “will be evolving in terms of what those layers of protection” should be, she said.

Meanwhile, her department has made aggressive efforts to make sure new staff and new residents at nursing home facilities have the opportunity to get vaccinated.

“It’s less about not wanting to get vaccinated but more about not having the opportunity,” Lambrew said. “So we continue to put that right in front of people to make sure that it is an easy and accessible choice.”

Nursing homes were among the first places of COVID-19 outbreaks and have been hit hard by the virus, but less so in Maine than other states, Lambrew and Shah said.

He credited the work that long-term facilities in Maine are doing to keep residents and workers safe. When there’s an outbreak in a long-term care facility “we work with them immediately on personal protection equipment,” making sure there’s enough, Shah said.

Second, universal testing is key to get a sense of what’s going on, and third, the Maine CDC partners with nursing homes to control infection, making sure all protocols are followed.

COVID-19 has hit nursing homes and long-term care facilities “extra hard,” Lambrew said. “Annually there’s flu, but we don’t see the flu hit nursing facilities the way that COVID-19 hit them.”

Even though the virus is spreading in Maine, especially in younger people, Shah said with so many Mainers now vaccinated, “the older are generally now well protected.”


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