LEWISTON — Officials representing Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center said Tuesday that leadership has no immediate plans to require that their staff get a COVID-19 vaccine, despite growing advocacy at the national level from health care associations that want to see inoculations mandated for health care workers.

“We still support — very highly encouraging — team members to get their vaccinations,” Kris Chaisson, a registered nurse and the vice president of nursing and patient care services at CMMC.

“We’re making a lots of efforts, individual efforts, trying to make sure that we have no barriers to any access to the vaccine — in so far as we will bring a cart to them and give them their shot,” she said.

Chaisson is also incident commander for Central Maine Healthcare, CMMC’s parent company. Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital are also a part of CMH.

St. Mary’s spokesperson Steve Costello said Tuesday that hospital leadership had met with Covenant Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Douglas Waite. The Tewksbury, Mass.-based health care network is the parent company to St. Mary’s Health System, which includes the medical center and d’Youville Pavillion, a nursing home, and St. Mary’s Residences, an independent senior-living complex.

In a statement, Waite said that Covenant is “watching carefully the debate and decisions around mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers. At this time, there are no plans in the immediate future to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its staff.”

Staff at CMMC and St. Mary’s are 66% and 73% vaccinated, respectively, according to the latest data from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. About 79% of all hospital health care workers in the state are vaccinated.

A requirement for workers at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, both of which are part of MaineHealth, is “under discussion,” MaineHealth spokesperson John Porter told the Portland Press Herald.

CMH Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Alexander previously said that CMH would not consider requiring the vaccine without full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA gave emergency use authorization to the Pfizer BioN-Tech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines late last year and earlier this year. Vaccines that are approved through an emergency use authorization must still undergo the same clinical trials and rigorous testing standards as vaccines that may take years to develop, according to the FDA.

An EUA is essentially a way to cut through bureaucratic red tape as a “mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the FDA’s website.

“For an EUA to be issued for a vaccine, for which there is adequate manufacturing information to ensure quality and consistency, FDA must determine that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine.”

Full approval of the vaccines is expected sometime later this year or early next year.

Even so, Chaisson, from CMMC, said waiting for full FDA approval before moving forward makes sense.

“I think for the most part, we’re not considering mandating at this time, whether it’s EUA or (full) FDA approved,” she said.

“Lots of people have lots of questions around the EUA. So, when we try to educate people around to get the vaccine or not, people still have lots of questions around that. And so, it’s just really trying to focus on education people about that.”

Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that any potential side effects of the vaccines — which are exceedingly rare — outweigh the risks of contracting COVID-19. And another study showed that even when individuals who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations are infected with COVID-19, so-called “breakthrough” cases, the vaccines extremely effective in preventing severe illness that can result in hospitalization or even death.

Chaisson said that she chose to get vaccinated “because I wanted to keep my family members safe, my grandchildren safe, that live with me, and trying my best to do everything I can to protect myself.”

She said that if a patient or colleague came to her with concern over the vaccines’ emergency use authorization, she would tell them that she, too, shared that concern, at first.

“When you look at the pretty big difference of getting (COVID) and not being hospitalized and being protective of ourselves as well as taking care of the patients, it seems like the right thing to do.”

MANDATES CONSIDERED

Reticence to mandate the vaccine at CMMC, St. Mary’s and other hospitals across the state comes amid flurry of announcements from federal, state and local agencies that have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

The Department of Veteran Affairs announced Monday that its frontline health care workers, including doctors, dentists and registered nurses, have eight weeks to get vaccinated.

California and the city of New York said that state and city employees must either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

When asked if that was a policy CMMC might adopt, Chaisson said that it has “come up on a number of occasions whether or not we need to go in that direction. At this point, our resources are really dedicated towards administering the vaccines (rather) than trying to administer and operationalize more testing.”

On Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden told reporters that a vaccine mandate for federal workers is “under consideration.”

This all comes as the highly contagious delta variant, a strain of the virus first detected in late 2020 in India, has taken foothold in every part of the country.

According to the U.S. CDC, about 83% of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and about 68% of cases in New England reported between June 20 and July 3 were the delta variant. In the two weeks prior, the delta variant represented just 31.9% of new cases nationwide and less than 12% in the northeast.

The seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases in Maine increased by nearly 30% from one week ago as of Tuesday, to 0.48 cases per 10,000 people. In central and western Maine, only Franklin County saw a decrease in the past week, to 0.19 cases.

Androscoggin County’s seven-day average per capita increased by 20%, to 0.24 cases, from where it stood July 20. And Oxford County’s seven-day average of 0.37 cases per 10,000 residents Tuesday was a 118% jump from last week.

Concerns over the rapid spread of the variant and new information that shows even fully vaccinated people can carry the disease led the U.S. CDC to revise its guidance on face coverings Tuesday afternoon to say that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in some situations. Previous guidance said that vaccinated individuals need not wear masks indoors.

Following the U.S. CDC’s reversal, Gov. Janet Mills said that she directed DHHS and Maine CDC to review the state’s recommendations and that she expects an update to be ready Wednesday.

“In the meantime, we continue to strongly urge all Maine people to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated,” Mills said in a statement. “It is the best and most effective way to protect your health and that of your family, friends, and communities.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.