Protesters gathered at Monument Park in Houlton on August 31 against the vaccine mandate for Maine Healthcare Workers, set to take effect at the start of October. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

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Abigail W. Griffin of Levant represents District 102 in the Maine House of Representatives. She serves on the Health and Human Services Committee.

The governor’s recent mandate that all health care workers and any vendors or contractors who work at health care, dental or facilities be vaccinated by Oct. 1, or lose their jobs, is, I believe, a reckless, unnecessary step that may create a public health crisis. With up to 10,000 healthcare workers affected, it will likely make the shortage of healthcare workers worse.

Health care workers have been on the frontlines through this whole pandemic and now some of them are being treated like dangerous pariahs. For 18 months, they have safely served patients, seniors, friends and neighbors. Gov. Janet Mills recently announced that “80 percent of all eligible people in Maine have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, achieving another milestone.”

We now also know that fully vaccinated people can contract and/or spread COVID along with those who choose, for whatever reason, to remain unvaccinated.

I recently heard from the vaccinated husband of a 20-year nursing home employee who is facing the prospect of leaving her chosen profession and people she loves. She is afraid of receiving a new vaccine that could be dangerous due to her medical history. She has already attempted unsuccessfully to obtain a medical exemption from her doctor.

This past week, three nursing homes have closed, due in large part to staffing shortages. A second lawsuit challenging the governor’s vaccination requirement for healthcare workers has been filed.

I am also aware of a pregnant dental employee who recently bought a house in Maine and loves her job. Like other dental employees, she has safely, without incident served patients since the pandemic began. She is now leaving that job to work in New Hampshire, rather than hold out hope that the governor’s mandate will be overturned.

These and other personal tragedies are occurring throughout Maine. People who oppose the heavy hand of government dictating that private employers fire those who choose to not participate in this mass experiment are often labeled anti-vaccination. That is a disservice to what should be a personal choice regarding our bodies and health. You would think that people working in the healthcare field are in the best position to determine the risks and rewards of COVID vaccinations.

The mandate by Mills, which I believe is reckless, is likely to turn a public health problem into a crisis. Papers are beginning to report a potential shortage of ICU beds, which require staff to operate.

We do not know how many healthcare, dental and emergency medical service workers will leave public service in Maine. By the time that is known, it will be too late to address the larger problem. People who have served us at great risk to themselves and their families throughout the pandemic will have moved on. Once hailed as heroes, they may now be a casualty of the governor’s ill-advised mandate.

I pray that the situation does not become worse, due to healthcare workers leaving the profession entirely or for employment in other states.