Maine health care providers saw only a small bump in total coronavirus vaccinations between July and August before a state mandate for workers took effect, something that could challenge the industry just over a month from a deadline for full immunization.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data only includes workers fully vaccinated — meaning they are two weeks out from their second shot — as of Aug. 31. It does not reflect most workers who began the process after Gov. Janet Mills announced her mandate in mid-August. It does not include dentists’ offices and paramedics required to follow the rules.
It illustrates how slowly vaccinations are increasing in the state. Health care workers are supposed to be vaccinated by Oct. 1, but many providers are treating Mills’ decision to push the enforcement deadline until October’s end as a grace period. They do so amid a national worker shortage putting stress on hospitals and long-term care facilities struggling to provide services. Workers not vaccinated by then will not be allowed to work and likely fired by facilities.
The Maine CDC reported that nursing home vaccinations increased by 5.1 percentage points to 77 percent from July to August, the biggest bump of all facility types the state is tracking. Hospitals, which have had the second-highest vaccination rates in the state, saw the next-largest increase of 4.4 percentage points to 84.6 percent. Facilities for people with intellectual disabilities remain least vaccinated, seeing a 2.8 percentage point increase to 71 percent of staff fully vaccinated.
Ten facilities reported a 100 percent vaccination status for employees, an increase of one, by the end of August. Since it is dated, the data does not include Millinocket Hospital, which reported full immunization on Tuesday. But many facilities also reported decreases that can come as vaccinated people leave and unvaccinated people are hired to replace them.
During a Wednesday news conference, Mills stressed the importance of getting health care workers vaccinated as Maine sees a surge in cases and outbreaks are again occuring in care facilities. She resisted calls to consider a weekly testing alternative, as other states have, saying workers could be positive and spread the virus to vulnerable patients before getting tested.
“[They’re] the highest risk and that’s the danger we’re trying to address,” she said.