Employees at Bath Iron Works, center, demonstrate against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside the shipyard on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Bath. Credit: Josh Reynolds / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Republican bid to block state COVID-19 vaccine mandates was shot down by Democrats who lead the Maine House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Tracy Quint, R-Hodgdon, began as a measure to prohibit the state from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for five years after the federal government approved them on an emergency basis. Republicans later advanced an amended version of the bill prohibiting state mandates, including students and public employees. Maine currently only requires health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

While it never had a chance in the Democratic-led Legislature, it was the most recent effort by one faction of Republicans to question the proven safety and efficacy of the vaccines. The vote went along party lines, though some more moderate Republicans indicated concern solely with shots being required in the future rather than doubting their safety.

Few Democrats spoke about the measure on the House floor on Wednesday, but those who did urged members to remember the severity of illness the virus can cause and to not limit any public health measures that might be able to contain it.

“Every person who has been affected by this, by the separation from their loved ones, whether they’re in congregate care or whether they’re six feet apart, it’s a challenge we’re all living through,” said Rep. Heidi Brooks, D-Lewiston.

Quint, the bill’s sponsor, said she brought the idea forward after constituents came to her concerned about the vaccines’ safety, pointing to “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people and deaths recorded after getting the vaccine. But concerns are based on often-misunderstood points of data that have gained prominence during the pandemic.

The super-contagious omicron variant infected far more vaccinated people than past strains, but unvaccinated people remained at a much higher risk of serious illness during the recent surge. The federal government has also recorded 12,304 deaths in recently vaccinated people, which amounts to two-tenths of 1 percent of the 547 million doses administered in the U.S. But those deaths must be reported whether they are linked to the vaccine or not and the virus has killed 926,000 people since it was first detected in the U.S. in early 2020. 

“I feel that people that speak up against the COVID-19 vaccination are vilified and that’s not acceptable,” Quint said on the House floor. “As a nurse, it is not acceptable to vilify someone for not wanting medical treatment.”

Not all Republicans were as doubtful about the vaccine. Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham said he was vaccinated and believed in the shots. He still disliked the idea of mandates.

“I don’t want anyone else to speak for me today,” he said.