Large, private employers in Maine say they will continue pushing employees to get vaccinated despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday against a federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate for workers.

Wex is among the Maine companies that have required employees to be vaccinated regardless of federal rules. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Some companies, including Wex and Bangor Savings Bank, already require employees to be vaccinated and will continue to do so. Others said they were prepared to meet the mandate’s requirements but now will regroup to discuss future policies while encouraging all hires to get their shots.

Gov. Janet Mills will not impose a statewide mandate on Maine’s private employers, her office said Friday.

The Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate that required employees at companies with 100 or more workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. The court’s conservative majority concluded that the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule, although it allowed the vaccination requirement to stand for health care facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.

More than 80 million people would have been affected by the rule, which OSHA had estimated would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months. About 170,000 Maine workers – roughly one-third of the state’s labor force – work for private companies or nonprofits with 100 or more employees, according to state data.

Mills announced last year that health care workers in Maine must be vaccinated, but she is not considering additional requirements for vaccines and is calling on “all people in positions of leadership to join her in urging folks to step up and get vaccinated,” spokesperson Lindsay Crete said.

“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and the governor is grateful that Maine is the third most fully vaccinated state in the nation,” Crete added. “The governor joins health care professionals across Maine in strongly urging all eligible Maine people to get vaccinated to protect their health and potentially save lives.”

CLOSE OR ALREADY THERE

The Jackson Laboratory, a Maine-based biomedical research organization, said the Supreme Court ruling did not affect its decision to impose a vaccination requirement on its employees.

Catherine Longley, the laboratory’s executive vice president and CEO, said it was keeping its vaccination requirement in place and has offered vaccinations on site and paid time off to obtain vaccinations.

She said The Jackson Laboratory is allowed to require its employees to be vaccinated “as a condition of employment based on workplace safety concerns.”

Renée Smyth, an executive vice president for Camden National Bank, said the bank’s pandemic task force has been meeting weekly since spring 2020 and has been closely monitoring the OSHA requirement since it was announced last year. The task force had worked through many of the complexities involved with meeting the requirements, including setting up a system for employees to record their vaccination information with human resources and figuring out how to test unvaccinated employees.

“We were prepared to implement it starting in February,” she said.

Smyth said about 80 percent of the bank’s 610 employees are already vaccinated, and that the company will continue to provide employees with paid time off and education in hopes that the number of vaccinated employees will continue to go up. The task force also will continue to monitor any local and state mandates that could come up, she said.

The Supreme Court decision has no impact on Wex or Bangor Savings Bank. Both companies announced their own vaccination requirements for employees before the court’s decision.

At Wex, all in-office workers in the United States must be vaccinated, but the company maintains a focus on flexibility and choice in terms of returning to the office, spokesperson Rob Gould said. Employees must be fully vaccinated to enter a Wex facility, travel for work-related activities or meet in person with customers, partners or vendors. Contractors and vendors also must be fully vaccinated to enter a Wex property.

Bangor Savings announced on Dec. 16 that it will require full vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment for all employees, said Jaclyn Fish, community relations manager.

“Following CDC guidance and recommended practices provides us with the ability to run our business safely and in person, ensuring continuity of service and protecting the health and well-being of our communities,” Fish said. “Vaccines, boosters, social distancing and masking are measures available to all of us to help reduce the devastating losses and impact of this pandemic.”

HOSPITALS KEEP MANDATE

Thursday’s ruling left intact a federal vaccine requirement for most health care workers, and that was fine with the state’s two largest health care organizations.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Light Health has consistently said wearing a mask, washing hands, keeping safe distances from others and receiving vaccine are the best ways to protect our patients, our staff and our community,” spokeswoman Karen Cashman said. “Neither policy debate nor legal discussions change our belief or direction.”

Cashman said that 372 Northern Light workers – or about 3 percent of its workforce – left when the state imposed a vaccine mandate on health care workers in the fall.

MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care network, also was pleased that the vaccine requirement for health care workers was left intact by the Supreme Court, said John Porter, associate vice president for system communications and public affairs.

“It’s just in the interests of the entire community that everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated is vaccinated,” he said.

Porter said the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in MaineHealth’s hospitals are unvaccinated, and that almost all of those in the intensive care wards have not been vaccinated.

“Getting vaccinated is something everyone can do to relieve the pressure on the hospital system,” he said, and requiring health care workers to be vaccinated helps alleviate staffing shortages because vaccinated workers either don’t catch the virus or they have to quarantine for a shorter period if they do catch it.

Porter said about 400 workers left MaineHealth rather than be vaccinated under the order the state issued in the fall. That is less than 2 percent of the system’s 22,000 employees.

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