In 2019, Auburn nurse Laurel Libby stepped into the spotlight in Augusta to take a stand against a measure to abolish the religious exemption to vaccines for children attending Maine schools.

She told a legislative panel at the time that if the proposal passed “Maine will lose a nurse” and her physical therapist husband “when we move to a state that supports freedom of choice.”

The Legislature approved the bill anyway and, just before the pandemic hit in March 2020, voters in Maine backed the mandatory vaccination measure by a nearly 3-to-1 margin at the polls statewide.

Libby did not move away.

State Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn addresses an anti-vaccine mandate rally this week in Augusta. Screenshot from video

Instead, she ran for the state House of Representatives as a Republican, defeating incumbent Democrat Betty Ann Sheats in the 64th District last November, and quickly took on a leading role in fighting edicts to wear masks to help thwart the spread of COVID-19.

Lately, she’s become a major figure in GOP circles by championing opposition to vaccine mandates as well.

At an anti-mandate rally in Augusta this week, Libby told a cheering crowd that Gov. Janet Mills’ edict that health care workers must be vaccinated by Oct. 1 marks “an incredibly dangerous precedent.”

“The stakes have literally never been higher than they are today,” she told several hundred rallygoers.

“To be clear, this is war!” she shouted.

For Mills and the medical establishment in Maine, however, it’s not war. It’s just public health, no different than longstanding rules that require that health care workers — and students in Maine schools — have been immunized against everything from measles to the flu.

Experts say the way to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 909 Mainers — 88 of them in Androscoggin County — is to vaccinate everyone possible, wear masks and maintain social distancing as much as possible, especially indoors.

“Vaccinations are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people and to curb this pandemic,” Mills said when she announced Aug. 12 that health care workers would be required to be immunized against COVID-19.

“Health care workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine people, and it is imperative that they take every precaution against this dangerous virus, especially given the threat of the highly transmissible delta variant,” the governor said.

“With this requirement, we are protecting health care workers, their patients, including our most vulnerable, and our health care capacity,” Mills said.

State Rep. Laurel Libby Maine House Republicans

In Libby’s view, that move was “the biggest gamble” of Mills’ career — and one that Mainers should fight.

“She thinks we will buckle and just do as she demands,” Libby told the crowd of nearly 400 outside the State House on Monday

She said the battle “has nothing to do with the vaccine. This fight is about government force.”

Libby told supporters to “continue to be brave together” and to stand together to say, “No!”

“Are we willing to lose our jobs? Are we willing to leave health care? Are we willing to walk out in a coordinated effort?” she asked, prodding Mainers covered by the mandate to stand fast in their opposition, even if it costs them their jobs as doctors, nurses, emergency medical personnel and others.

“What are you prepared to do to protect your rights? To protect the rights of your children? To protect the rights of the generations to come?” Libby asked.

She said the fight ahead “will not be easy. It will not be comfortable.”

But, Libby said, it can be won.

“When we win this war,” Libby said, “you will be able to look your children and your grandchildren in the eye and say you fought for their liberty.”

Libby, a Bangor native, worked for 13 years as a nurse at Maine Medical Center in Portland and at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. More recently, the mother of five started Dawson Interiors, an interior decorating and real estate staging company.

In her time as a working nurse, she said, she never witnessed a patient receive unwanted medical treatment.

That should be the standard for vaccines as well, Libby said. Fail to stop Mills now, she warned, and “Maine will slide down the slippery slopes until mandates are the status quo.”

In her testimony to legislators three years ago, Libby speculated where that slippery slope might end.

“Obesity, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and smoking kill millions a year,” she said. “Should the government start regulating these types of health issues?”

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