Commentary

Hospital group pushes for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for workers

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COVID-19 vaccines: a personal choice or a workplace requirement?

Well, to Maine’s top hospital group, the answer is a requirement. The Maine Hospital Association (MHA) is advocating for a COVID-19 vaccination mandate across all hospitals in Maine once the vaccines have received full approval from the FDA.

“We would prefer if there is a mandate, that we want the mandate to cover all health care providers,” said Steven Michaud, president of the MHA.

The potential outcomes of such a mandate, though, are disastrous and would come as Maine is still sifting its way through a post-pandemic economic recovery.

Earlier this month, nearly 200 workers at a hospital in Houston, Texas were suspended for not abiding by the vaccination requirement their employer put into effect. The suspensions sparked protests from dozens of workers against the mandate.

Those workers walked out and refused to work for a period of time. The same thing could happen in Maine at a time when we are already facing a labor shortage to which healthcare providers are not immune.

Much of these problems in healthcare employment actually preceded, and were only worsened by, the pandemic. Maine’s nurses are composed mostly of an aging population. Half of them are expected to retire over the next five years.

According to a 2010 study from the Robert Graham Center, the additional need for physicians in Maine will continue to increase. It was projected that by 2020 Maine would need an additional 80 physicians, due to the Affordable Care Act increasing coverage, and an increasing and aging population. Their projection for 2030 was an additional 120 physicians.

Between 2015 and 2020, the number of licensed psychiatrists in Maine dropped 50%. 

Maine is hurting for healthcare workers, and another restriction on potential employees of that sector certainly won’t help.

By instituting a blanket mandate, the government could significantly impact Maine’s health care workforce in ways that worsen health outcomes for patients. 

If a hospital requires employees to be vaccinated, then those who have been vaccinated can opt to work there without a problem. If someone else does not want to receive the vaccine for any reason, as they have the right to, then they can choose to work in a hospital that does not require vaccination.

Different communities across Maine have different vaccination rates, varying from the mid-50s to as high as 97% in Washington County.

The graphic above, made by the Portland Press Herald, displays the hospitals in Maine with the highest and lowest vaccination rates as of May 2021.

By laying down a one-size-fits-all approach, this mandate would prevent employers from operating the way they deem best for their needs as much as it would prevent workers from making the best decision for themselves and their family regarding the vaccine.

On top of that, forcing people to get a vaccine in any instance is a violation of personal liberty. It is unfortunate the pandemic and subsequent vaccines have become so politicized, but nonetheless, every individual should have the right to choose whether or not to receive the vaccine, especially as Maine already has one of the highest vaccination rates of the country.

It’s important to note that all three vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA are safe and effective, and the CDC recommends every eligible citizen receive the vaccine as soon as they’re able. Nevertheless, our governments have no business in establishing vaccine mandates. 

Instead, our government and public health community should focus on presenting all of the facts, data and research related to the vaccines to the public to encourage people to come to the decision on their own, when they are comfortable. Removing the option to choose, though, is not the right solution.

About Nick Linder

Nicholas Linder, of Cincinnati, is a communications Intern for Maine Policy Institute. He is going into his second year of studying finance and public policy analysis at The Ohio State University. On campus, he is involved with Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations and Business for Good.

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