Roughly 400 people showed up at the State House Tuesday to protest Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ recent mandate that health care workers get vaccinated against COVID-19. Credit: Steve Mistler / Maine Public

A few Maine Republican leaders came to Augusta on Tuesday to address the roughly 400 demonstrators at the State House protesting Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ recent mandate that all health care workers get vaccinated against COVID-19.

One of them was Republican state Rep. Laurel Libby, who was part of the 2020 anti-vaccination campaign that unsuccessfully attempted to overturn a law mandating certain inoculations for school children.

She told the crowd Tuesday that the protest against the new vaccine requirement for health care workers was not anti-vaccine, but rather, opposing another step toward the loss of individual freedom.

“To be clear, this is war!” she said at one point.

And she encouraged health care workers to sacrifice their jobs to fight what she described as a hard, uncomfortable battle against their government.

“Are we willing to lose our jobs? Are we willing to leave health care? Are we willing to walk out in a coordinated effort? That goes counter to everything I ever learned as a nurse,” she said.

In a written statement, the governor’s spokesperson Lindsay Crete said the COVID-19 mandate is nothing new for health care workers, who are already required to receive a battery of inoculations to prevent the spread of transmissible diseases such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, hepatitis B and the flu.

“This change simply adds the COVID-19 vaccine and is supported by a broad coalition of health care providers across Maine, including Maine Hospital Association, Maine Medical Association, Maine Primary Care Association, Maine Health Care Association, Maine Emergency Medical Services, and Maine Dental Association, along with the state’s two largest health systems, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health,” Crete said.

Crete said that vaccines “are safe, effective, and the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people and to curb this pandemic.”

She said that it’s imperative for health workers “to take every precaution” so that their patients can feel safe going to them, especially in light of the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

Several people who spoke at the State House rally identified themselves as health care workers, including Rhonda Murray, the director of nursing at Horizons Living & Rehabilitation Center in Brunswick.

Murray said she’s been vaccinated against COVID-19, along with 80 percent of the Horizons staff.

But she opposed compelling her colleagues to do the same or risk losing their jobs.

“(Gov. Mills) is talking about keeping the hospitals empty. Well, good luck with that because we got to empty our building because we’re not going to have enough staff to take care of our residents,” Murray said.

Several other Republican lawmakers attended the protest, which doubled as an organizing event for GOP activists as they seek to take control of the Legislature in 2022.

They included Rep. Heidi Sampson, of Alfred, who compared the vaccine requirement to the unethical and brutal practices of German doctors during the rise and fall of the Nazis.

Sampson recently came under fire for sharing a stage at an event it Belfast with a conspiracy theorist known for anti-Semitic views, Holocaust denial and the false assertion that NASA is secretly running a child slave colony on Mars.

Sampson has denied sharing those views, saying she was there to push for an audit of the 2020 Maine election results — a request that would compel state officials to turn over voter data to the same individuals perpetuating the baseless assertion that last year’s election was stolen from former president Donald Trump.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.