As of Friday, all health care workers in Maine are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Any who do not comply have to be fired by their employer before enforcement begins Oct. 29.
The rule sounds harsh, and it has drawn vocal opposition by some, including a very small, very vocal minority of health care workers who say they will quit before they comply.
But with new cases and hospitalizations on the rise in Maine, this measure is absolutely necessary. Workers who are in contact with patients who are sick with COVID and people who are frail enough to need direct care in a hospital or nursing home should be vaccinated, and most are.
If we have learned anything in the past nine months, it’s that the COVID vaccines are safe and they work. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah, M.D., reported last week that even though there are many more vaccinated adults in the state than unvaccinated ones, 90 percent of the COVID patients in intensive care in Maine were unvaccinated.
He cited a federal CDC study conducted in Los Angeles that found that unvaccinated people were 29 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated ones.
And not only do vaccines work, but vaccine mandates work, too.
Vaccine acceptance is on the rise nationally, and the biggest single reason is fear of getting sick with COVID, according to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But evidence is mounting that workplace vaccine mandates help people get over their hesitancy and very few people walk away from their jobs if they are required to be vaccinated. United Airlines was one of the first companies to require vaccines, and it reported last week that 98.5 percent of its employees have been vaccinated. Only 593 employees, fewer than 1 percent of the United’s 67,000 employees, face getting fired for refusing to comply.
We are seeing similar levels of compliance in Maine’s largest health care organizations. As of mid-September, 66 employees from Northern Light Health, and 58 from MaineHealth have resigned in protest of the vaccine mandate. They represent 0.6 percent of Northern Light’s workforce and 0.3 percent of MaineHealth’s.
In a tight labor market, those losses are not insignificant, but the hospitals lost more workers to COVID during this pandemic.
Some have criticized President Biden’s vaccine mandate, which will affect all federal workers and employers with more than 100 employees, saying that instead of negative consequences, people should be given incentives to choose to be vaccinated. That has been tried, and the rise in hospitalizations shows that it does not work.
The Kaiser survey showed why. The divisions that have become a feature of our politics have infected this public health crisis.
According to the survey, most vaccinated people (77 percent) see people refusing the vaccine as a major cause of the recent surge. Meanwhile, most unvaccinated people (58 percent) say the surge proves that vaccines do not work, even though it is unvaccinated people who are filling the hospitals.
This divide will not be resolved with a debate. People have a right to choose whether they want the vaccine, but they don’t have a right to make other people sick.
Requiring vaccines in workplaces is good public health policy with a long history and well-established legal precedents. Other institutions, including schools and prisons, should follow the health care industry and also make vaccines mandatory for employees.
Read More:Our View: Vaccine mandates are the right way to fight COVID