"We know that health care workers in particular who work in the hospital can not only contract H1N1 or influenza but they can also transmit it to people," said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She says health care facilities will have to report back to the state by December 15th as to how many of their employees have taken up the offer of H1N1 vaccines.
"If H1N1 surges, which it undoubtedly will at some point in time, we believe that some patients who may be going into the hospital electively may want to know what the vaccine rate is of a hospital," Dr. Mills said.
The new H1n1 rules will spotlight vaccinations among a group whose inoculation rates are not much higher than the general population.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say just over 40 percent of health care workers get the annual flu shot -- compared to a national average of 33 percent.
"I do believe that there will be increased vaccinations with the H1N1 for health care employees," said Mary Mayhew. She is with the Maine Hospital Association. Mayhew says reporting to the Maine CDC about its vaccination rates among employees is a new thing, but something that hospitals will support.
"We are experiencing more of a pandemic situation with H1N1so we do support efforts to provide more information regarding the number of employees who are vaccinated b/c of the imprtonce of ensuring that we can do everything to prevent the spread," Mayhew said.
Health care facilities are already required to provide the vaccine for the seasonal flu and the new rules on the H1N1 vaccine are modeled after that.
Such rules, according to Mills, are not to be confused with mandatory vaccination programs. New York's public health department is the only one that makes all of its health care workers get seasonal and swine flu vaccinations.
Still, the program in New York and the emphasis public health officials are putting on vaccinations against H1N1 has made some people in Maine nervous.
"Is that a safe vaccine? I think that some people have a legitimate question about that," said Representative Doug Thomas is a Republican from Ripley. Even though there are no mandatory vaccination programs in Maine, he's worried that could change so he's pushing for a bill that would explicitly ban them in state statute.
Thomas' bill request will be screened along with others by a legislative council next week. Whether a bill makes it to the full Legislature or not, there is a lot of interest in the issue, says Senator Jon Courtney. The Sanford Republican who serves on the council says he's received 100 e-mails and several phone calls from constituents.
"While the law says you can't be forced to have a vaccine maybe this bill will bring that to the forefront as we deliberate on how to deal with some of the issues in our changing times," said Senator Courtney.
Mills maintains that the new H1N1 vaccines are safe, and do not contain controversial ingredients such as squaline and aluminum. Some vaccines that come in multi-dose form will contain thimerosol, a preservative that some fear is linked to autism, but Mills stresses there is no connection.
She says the first round of H1N1 shipments coming in over the next eight weeks - about 340,000 doses -- will be targeted at priority groups such as health care workers, as well as people under 25 and pregnant women.