Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew speaks at the opening of a makeshift COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in Scarborough in February. Lambrew is among the defendants in the lawsuit. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A coalition formed to oppose Maine’s vaccine requirement for health care workers has filed a lawsuit against the state’s top health officials to stop the policy before it takes effect next month.

The lawsuit from the Alliance Against Health Care Mandates, which announced its formation in late August, is the second legal challenge to the mandate to be filed in as many weeks.

The group filed the lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta on Thursday, arguing that the rule violated state and federal law as well as the U.S. Constitution. The suit names Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah as defendants.

Under a plan Gov. Janet Mills announced in August, health care workers have until Oct. 1 to get vaccinated, though Mills said on Thursday that state officials would not begin enforcing the rule until Oct. 29.

The lawsuit is the latest backlash against the policy, which supporters say will help prevent the coronavirus’ spread in hospitals and long-term care facilities and Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey has argued is no different from existing vaccine requirements for health care workers.

Last month, the national Christian organization Liberty Counsel filed a suit against Mills and some of the state’s largest health organizations over the mandate in federal court.

In a statement Tuesday, Frey said the vaccine requirement was necessary to protect Maine’s health care system and limit the spread of COVID-19 within it. He said federal courts had recently upheld similar vaccine requirements.

“We will vigorously defend the requirement against this lawsuit and we are confident that it will be upheld,” Frey said.

Frey’s office will defend the state against both lawsuits.

The alliance argues that the mandate exceeds DHHS’ rulemaking authority under the Maine Administrative Procedure Act and violates the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment that they say is in the Maine Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the filing.

The group’s filing also calls all of the available COVID-19 vaccines “highly experimental” and says that anyone getting the vaccines in the U.S. is a “test subject” who would be forced between keeping their job or risking “injury or death” from the vaccine. More than 200 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a minimal number of people reporting adverse health effects.

While lawsuits against vaccine requirements have proliferated in recent months, courts have often sided against plaintiffs seeking to stop such policies. Last month, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett refused to block a plan by Indiana University to require that students and employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maine health care employees can get out of the vaccine requirement with a medical exemption but there is no religious exemption to the requirement.

Emily Nixon, a nurse and spokesperson for the Coalition for Healthcare Workers Against Medical Mandates, one of the organizations taking part in the suit, said Tuesday that her organization counted 2,500 health care workers across the state among its members. Of those, she said, 1,800 are willing to be terminated if the rule takes effect.