Maine officials to tighten vaccine eligibility enforcement as health system defends shot distribution

State officials in Maine said they will strengthen efforts to ensure healthcare providers comply with COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements, according to local news source Maine Public.

During a news briefing Feb. 9, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said the department, which includes the state CDC, is "reiterating that our guidelines are requirements," according to the TV and radio station network. Department Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew also said providers will be held accountable if they violate vaccination provider agreements. 

The announcement came as Portland-based MaineHealth defended its decision to vaccinate all hospital employees, including administrative and remote staff.

MaineHealth said it began to offer vaccinations to all staff, as well as contracted and temporary workers who met state and federal eligibility criteria, in late December to ensure care could be provided to patients who had and did not have coronavirus. 

At the time, a description on the Maine CDC website of eligible phase 1A healthcare workers included workers who do not have direct contact with patients, such as remote and administrative staff, the Press Herald reported.

This changed Jan. 13, when the state clarified on its website that eligible phase 1A healthcare workers should only include people with direct patient contact. 

Ms. Lambrew said this was "in recognition of the fact that we just didn't have enough vaccine, and we wanted to prioritize older people at risk of severe illness and death," according to Maine Public.

But in statements shared with Becker's, MaineHealth said it had already provided first doses to workers who don't have direct contact with patients.

"MaineHealth's decision to vaccinate all its care team members has proven critical as it prepares to set up mass vaccination clinics across its service area," the health system said. "For instance, a majority of those employees who have been working primarily from home during the pandemic are now being redeployed to staff vaccine clinics. MaineHealth stands by its decision to secure its full healthcare system by vaccinating its full care team. We believe that it is the best approach for patients, care team members and the communities we serve." 

Still, the health system acknowledged it did err during the week starting Jan. 17 by offering the vaccine to some out-of-state individuals who were brought into Maine Medical Center amid efforts by nurses at the hospital to unionize. Only Maine residents are eligible under state guidelines.


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