More health organizations in Maine are announcing their support for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for medical workers. The pressure to get vaccinations has increased this week.

The U.S. Veterans Administration has mandated its frontline health workers, and more than 50 national medical groups are pushing for a universal requirement.

One of the newest groups in language support is the organization representing nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Maine.

Angela Westhoff, executive director of the Maine Health Care Association, says the overall vaccination rate among nursing home staff is more than 70%, above the national average. But there is a wide range from facility to facility. Some have rates that are in the 30 to 40% range.

“And we hope that this statement will help to raise awareness and increase vaccination rates for nurses,” says Westhoff.

Westhoff emphasizes that the Maine Health Care Association supports long-term care facilities that choose the vaccine.

She says they will re-examine whether to support a blanket mandate once the FDA fully approves the vaccines. That is expected to happen sometime by January.

And when it does, Millinocket Regional Hospital must receive either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine from its staff. It is the first hospital in Maine to announce a mandate.

“One of my colleagues even said, ‘Why do we have to be first?’ And I said, ‘Why can’t we be first?’ “Says Todd Phillips, an infection prevention nurse.

Millinocket Regional Hospital is also number one in the state for its vaccination rate. Phillips says it’s almost 95%. But as the Delta variant becomes a growing threat and data confirms the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, the hospital owes it to the community to raise their vaccination rates even further.

“You know, our service area includes around 10,000 people. We have to live up to them. We have to live up to them. And difficult leadership and difficult decisions are part of doing the right thing, ”he says.

Larger hospital systems have so far been reluctant to make the leap to mandatory vaccinations.

Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare say their focus remains on voluntary immunization and education. MaineHealth says a mandate is being discussed and FDA approval is a factor. Meanwhile, the organization that represents hospitals is pushing for a nationwide requirement.

“Ideally, we would like the state to mandate vaccines for all healthcare workers in all settings, not just hospitals or nursing homes,” said Steven Michaud, executive director of the Maine Hospital Association.

He says a statewide mandate would discourage workers from changing jobs and protect most people.

The two unions representing nurses in Maine also support vaccine requirements. The CDC in Maine has said it is premature to comment on mandatory vaccinations without full FDA approval. Regardless, says Michaud, the Delta variant creates a sense of urgency.

“With the conversations that I have with our members, we are going this way. It’s just a matter of time and how it’s done, ”he says.