As a nurse midwife, state Sen. Stacy Brenner is well acquainted with the vaccination mandates for Maine healthcare workers – to protect patients from harm, she must stay up to date on all the required shots – for COVID and other diseases such as the flu – if she wants to keep delivering babies in area hospitals.

The tables were turned last summer, however, when Brenner’s mother required surgery. Brenner said she deserved to know that every effort was being made to shield her mother from dangerous hospital-acquired infections, including COVID-19.

“I trusted that she would be kept safe,” Brenner said Wednesday on the floor of the Maine Senate. “Mainers deserve to know that when their loved ones are admitted to the hospital, every precaution is made to minimize the chances of infection.”

Brenner was one of 17 senators who voted to oppose a bill, L.D. 867, that would have enacted a five-year ban on state COVID-19 vaccine mandates like the one for health care workers that went into effect in Maine last October. Thirteen senators, including one Democrat, voted in favor of the ban.

Wednesday’s vote, which follows a 59-76 loss in the House late last month, means the proposed ban was officially declared dead Wednesday.

But not before three senators – Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, Marianne Moore, R-Calais, and Dave Miramant, D-Camden – argued that vaccine science remains unsettled, that vaccination should be a personal medical decision, and that those who refuse it should not lose their jobs.


“This is needed to preserve the right to informed consent, a bedrock principle of medical treatment, and allow time to determine efficacy and long-term impact,” Keim said. “This bill is our opportunity to put the brakes on policy and take a closer look.”

The Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services has heard hours of testimony from hundreds of people, many of whom have suffered adverse reactions to the vaccine or who have lost their jobs or access to services because they have refused to be vaccinated, Keim said.

Mandate advocates say being fired from a job for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine is a fair consequence, but Keim called it coercion. “Does a healthcare hero really have a choice when they must choose between feeding their family and taking the vaccine?” she asked.

Keim and Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, traded arguments over vaccine effectiveness and the percentage of hospitalized COVID patients who have received the vaccine during a 45-minute Senate debate on the bill.

Dr. Nirav Shah, head of the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has said repeatedly that the vast majority of Maine residents hospitalized for COVID-19 have been unvaccinated. About 74 percent of Maine residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID, according to the latest data from the state CDC.

But passionate belief in the vaccines’ effectiveness can devolve into shaming anyone who dares to even ask questions about the latest vaccine development or science, Miramant said. He was especially saddened by testimony from healthcare professionals who have been shunned for sharing their professional observations.


“You’re not going to follow a rule?” Miramant said, describing the reaction to dissenting healthcare workers. “You’re so horrible! You can’t have a job! You can’t get unemployment for not having a job! You can rot in a hole and die! We’ll kick you as we walk by!”

The bill had been previously voted down 7-5 in committee. Supporters had originally said the ban was needed to give more time to study potential reproductive harm, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found no evidence that the vaccines cause such problems.

An amended version of the bill would have prohibited COVID-19 mandates on health care workers, who are largely covered by federal mandates. But bill sponsor Rep. Tracy Quint, R-Hodgdon, said that was too narrow and it was expanded to include children in school and state employees.

Ten states have banned vaccine mandates for state workers, six have banned mandates for health care workers and two have banned them for private employers, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

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