Governor Mills & Attorney General Frey Applaud First Circuit Court of Appeals Decision on Maine’s Health Care Worker Vaccination Requirement

Governor Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey issued the following statements in response to the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision (PDF) affirming the District Court of Maine’s decision in Doe v. Mills:

“Vaccinations are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people and to curb this pandemic. Health care workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine people, and it is imperative that hospitals and other settings take every precaution to protect workers and their patients against this dangerous virus, especially in view of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Anyone who is placed in the care of a health care worker has the right to expect – as do their families – that they will receive high-quality, safe care from fully vaccinated staff,” said Governor Janet Mills. “This rule protects health care workers, their patients, and our health care capacity in the face of this deadly virus. Just as vaccination defeated smallpox and vaccination defeated polio, vaccination is the way to defeat COVID-19. As Pope Francis said, getting vaccinated is an ‘act of love’.”

“As the First Circuit held, Maine’s rule requiring certain healthcare facilities to ensure their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 does not violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause,” said Attorney General Aaron M. Frey. “We appreciate the Court’s analysis and its alacrity in addressing the appeal. We will continue to vigorously defend the rule against all legal challenges.”

In affirming the decision, the First Circuit wrote, “Few interests are more compelling than protecting public health against a deadly virus. In promulgating the rule at issue here, Maine has acted in response to this virus to protect its healthcare system by meeting its three goals of preventing the overwhelming of its healthcare system, protecting those most vulnerable to the virus and to an overwhelmed healthcare system, and protecting the health of all Maine residents. In focusing the vaccination requirement on healthcare workers, Maine has taken steps to increase the likelihood of protecting the health of its population, particularly those who are most likely to suffer severe consequences if they contract COVID-19 or are denied other needed medical treatment by an overwhelmed healthcare system.”

“Maine's interest in safeguarding its residents is paramount. While we do not diminish the appellants' liberty of conscience, we cannot find, absent any constitutional or statutory violation, any error in the district court's conclusion that the rule promotes strong public interests and that an injunction would not serve the public interest,” the Court concluded.

Maine’s health care worker vaccine requirement is supported by the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Health Care Association, MaineHealth, Northern Light Health, and MaineGeneral Health. Further, the Biden Administration has said it will require all health care workers to be vaccinated, with no alternative for testing.

Under the rule, COVID-19 vaccination rates rose rapidly in September among Maine health care workers, further protecting these front-line workers, the health and lives of people in their care, and safeguarding Maine’s health care capacity.

Over the most recent reporting period, between September 1 through September 30, rates climbed above 90 percent for hospitals (91.6%) and ambulatory surgery centers (92%). The September rates increased by more than 10 percentage points in assisted housing facilities (88.1%) and intermediate care facilities (83.2%). Rates also rose significantly in nursing homes (85.8%).