A new Hampden Public Safety ambulance on the left is parked next to an older one on Nov. 22, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine paramedics would have looser vaccine requirements than other health care workers under a new proposal from state regulators that looks to balance workforce stress against the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most health care workers were required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B and the flu. Gov. Janet Mills in August issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August as virus cases were ticking up in what has become a months-long surge.

That new mandate was controversial, since paramedics did not have vaccine requirements before then. The Maine EMS board, which regulates the field, mirrored the state rules temporarily when Mills issued them. They pushed back at that time by giving workers more time to comply, although nearly 97 percent of paramedics were vaccinated by October.

A draft version of a permanent rule from a board subcommittee would only require COVID-19 vaccines after some cited concerns that other ongoing requirements could create an unnecessary burden as the state struggles to manage the pandemic and faces a workforce crisis. That would differentiate EMS workers from workers in hospitals and nursing homes.

“I think all of the vaccines are important for anyone working in health care,” said Joe Kellner, a Northern Light Health administrator who chairs the state EMS board’s rules subcommittee. “At this point, we are working on dealing with the acute crisis in front of us, and dealing with the vaccine that is the most critical.”

Pullner said the rule is written so that the board can add more vaccines if necessary in the future. The current temporary rule would require all other vaccines except COVID-19 by 2024. The board will discuss the new rule on Wednesday.

Public comments submitted on the new rule showed providers worried that getting proof of vaccinations other than COVID-19 might be challenging to get from health care providers, especially for employees vaccinated as children.

Kellner said he was persuaded by arguments that colleges and universities where EMS workers are trained are already requiring the other vaccines, making it likely they would have the immunizations anyway. He also pointed to new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on isolation requirements for workers, noting that rule focused solely on COVID-19.

But the urgency of protecting the workforce during the pandemic was a key factor for many members, said Brent Libby, the fire-rescue chief in Windham who chairs the EMS board. If getting proof of vaccinations is too cumbersome, it could stress a struggling workforce.

“It’s just a matter of trying to weigh the burden,” he said.