The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee filled two overflow rooms Monday morning as Mainers turned out to voice their opposition to vaccination mandates, in particular mandates that students and healthcare workers receive the experimental COVID-19 shots in order to work or attend school.
Before a crowd of more than 100, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim (R-Oxford) and several other Republican lawmakers gathered to voice their support for a series of bills that would restore vaccine exemptions and otherwise limit the State’s power to compel experimental medical treatments.
The hearings began less than 24 hours after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills announced in a press release that she had tested positive for COVID-19. Mills has said she’s vaccinated and “boosted,” but this is the second time she’s contracted the disease since receiving those injections.
As has become routine for high-profile advocates of the mRNA treatments who nonetheless catch the virus, Mills insisted that her symptoms were much more mild than they might have been had she not taken several of the shots.
Maine has one of the most authoritarian vaccine policies in the country, much of which was adopted under Mills.
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the State Legislature passed a bill that removed all religious and philosophical exemptions from the public school vaccine requirements. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mills used executive authority to add a mandate that healthcare workers receive the COVID-19 shots. Her administration later added a mandate for emergency services personnel, like ambulance drivers.
All three of those mandates have caused problems while failing to reduce transmission of the virus.
Advocates estimate that thousands of Maine healthcare workers, especially nurses, left the workforce rather than submit to the vaccine requirements. That contributed to a shortage of healthcare workers in the middle of a healthcare crisis. The shortage was so severe that Mills at one point allowed nurses who were testing positive for COVID-19 to return to work so long as they were vaccinated.
For many current and former healthcare workers, the policies have been inconsistent and counter-productive.
A recent commission studying Maine’s emergency services acknowledged that Maine’s emergency services are also in the middle of a workforce shortage crisis, a crisis that has been exacerbated by personnel who left the field rather than submit to the vaccine mandate. A group of EMS workers who lost their jobs as a result of the mandate have filed a legal challenge against the EMS mandate.
On the educational side, the 2019 law has placed superintendents across the state in a predicament. On the one hand, federal law and Supreme Court precedent says residents of the 50 states cannot be denied a spot at public schools. On the other hand, the law in Maine requires vaccination and does not allow even religious exemptions.
The conflict is particularly acute in Lewiston, where hundreds of students, many of them Somali immigrants, are not vaccinated. That school system has decided to ignore state law and allow those students to continue attending class.
Mills has said she implemented the COVID-19 mandates in order to stop transmission of the virus, but there is no scientific evidence suggesting the vaccines stop the transmission or contraction of the virus — as Mills now knows from personal experience.
Mills contracted the virus for a second time despite being vaccinated and is now following isolation protocols, suggesting she understands that despite being vaccinated she can spread the virus to her office staff who are likely also all vaccinated.
For Republicans, the worker shortage problems and the school dilemma could both be resolved if Mills simply acknowledged what the scientific evidence says about the vaccines and rescinded her mandates.
Asked why Mills continues to insist on keeping the mandates, Rep. Gary Drinkwater (R-Milford) said she just doesn’t want to admit she was wrong to implement them in the first place.
“As somebody who campaigned on that she works for the people, she works across the aisle, maybe she needs to sit back and examine her philosophy. And say, you know what, I’m completely vaccinated, but it didn’t prevent Covid,” said Drinkwater.
“Perhaps she needs to reconsider and rescind this executive order and let’s let these nurses get back to work,” he said.
Drinkwater said he didn’t know of any Democrats who had expressed support of the medical freedom bills moving through the committee, but he said if the bills do not prevail the next step would be the judicial system.
Rep. David Boyer (R-Poland) has authored a bill similar to Drinkwater’s that would restore exemptions for private schools and virtual schools.
“I totally support all the other bills here today,” said Boyer. “I just wanted to give the committee a little more narrow option if that’s the way they want to go.”
Boyer said the current school mandates have created a situation where school children can play together at church and Sunday School, but then some of those children can’t attend private school classes the following day because they haven’t received the shots.
“It’s just so silly,” he said.
Dr. Meryl Nass, an Ellsworth internist who had her medical license taken away for criticizing the Mills administration and flouting state and federal guidelines on Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, was greeted as something of a folk hero at the rally.
[RELATED: State agency defends punishment for Ellsworth doctor who criticized COVID-19 policies…]
“I’m just a country doctor, but I’ve got a big mouth,” she said, to applause and laughter.
Nass, an expert on vaccines who has testified multiple times before Congress, was critical online and in radio interviews of the Mills Administration’s pandemic policies.
As a result, she found herself on the radar of the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine (BOLIM). Emails obtained by Nass’s attorneys through the Freedom of Access Act showed that Gov. Mills’ sister Dora Mills, the head of Maine Health, even goaded at least one BOLIM member into scrutinizing Nass after she criticized the governor in a radio interview.
Following guidance from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) on policing “misinformation,” BOLIM subjected Nass to scrutiny in response to her criticism and found alleged violations it later used to strip her of her medical license.
She is currently appealing BOLIM’s initial decision to take away her medical license.
None of Nass’s patients ever complained about the care she provided throughout the pandemic, and most of her claims about state and federal COVID-19 policies have been vindicated.
But she is now prohibited from practicing medicine in the state of Maine.
Monday morning she had one message for those in attendance: the fight goes on.
Nass called on the crowd to spread the word about a little-known provision in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that proposed an international pandemic treaty under the auspices of a World Health Organization (WHO).
“Basically, it turned over the conduct of public health during a pandemic, so designated emergencies, to the WHO or other organizations running it,” said Nass.
“The WHO is potentially going to consider amendments to the international health regulations,” she said. “They also have a pandemic treaty, which has never existed before, that the WHO member nations are writing. The United States is the main entity behind this.”
She said all of the international pandemic efforts pointed toward a broad surveillance system — down to the genomic level — and a system of control over medical freedom.
“The will tell you what drugs you can have with the treaty and what drugs you cannot have — worldwide — if this pandemic treaty as proposed goes through,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has proposed a bill that would block U.S. entry into WHO’s pandemic treaty.
The vaccine related bills that had hearings on Monday are as follows:
- LD 51 – “An Act to Restore Religious and Philosophical Exemptions to Immunization Requirements”– Rep. Gary Drinkwater (R-Milford)
- LD 869 – “An Act to Protect Education Access by Providing a Mandate for Schoolchildren for a COVID-19 Vaccine or a Vaccine Under an Emergency Use Authorization” – Sen. Lisa Keim (Oxford)
- LD 198 – “An Act to Restore Religious and Philosophical Exemptions Regarding Immunization Requirements” – Rep. Barbara Bagshaw (R-Windham)
- LD 1148 – “An Act to Prohibit COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for Students Enrolled in Public Institutions of Learning” – Sen. Eric Brakey (Androscoggin)
- LD 1209 – “ An Act to Reinstate the Religious and Philosophical Vaccine Exemptions for Private Schools and Virtual Public Charter Schools” Rep. David Boyer (R-Poland)
- LD 1228 – “An Act to Prohibit Certain Higher Education Institutions from Requiring Vaccines Approved Under Emergency Use Authorization for Admission or Attendance” – Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo)