By Beth Germano

BOSTON (CBS) — Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration announced Wednesday it plans to roll out a COVID vaccine mandate for nursing home workers in Massachusetts soon. It’s the first statewide vaccine mandate from the governor.

“COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective method for preventing infection and serious illness from the virus, and staff at long-term care facilities and other health care providers serving vulnerable populations are critical in efforts to protect older residents,” Baker’s office said in a statement.

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Unvaccinated vaccine staff will need to get at least a first dose by Sept. 1, 2021, and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 10, 2021, which is when the Department of Public Health will start enforcing the mandate.

There will be exemptions “for those with medical restrictions or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving vaccination,” the administration said.

“I’m surprised at any healthcare worker who doesn’t want to be vaccinated,” said one man heading into a Newton facility to visit a loved one. “She’s in a declined state of health.

Massachusetts has 378 nursing homes and two Soldiers’ Homes. The governor’s office said that 155 facilities had less than 75% of staff fully vaccinated as of Aug. 2.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes with Brigham and Women’s hospital says more education is needed.

“The people who work in chronic care facilities also come from under represented communities with less access to medical care and greater concern over new vaccines,” Dr. Kuritzkes said.

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The Massachusetts Nurses Association said in a statement it is opposed to a vaccine mandate.

“Our position has been that we have encouraged our members to get the vaccine, and we believe the vast majority have already done so,” the union said. “We do not support mandating a vaccine that is still under emergency use authority.”

MNA President Katie Murphy told WBZ-TV “we do believe members are represented by collective bargaining and should have a conversation with management at each individual facility.”

Advocacy group Massachusetts Senior Care Association said it applauded the move to “ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Commonwealth’s nursing facility residents.”

“The Governor’s new state COVID-19 staff vaccination mandate for nursing home staff will save lives, especially since many workers move between jobs frequently or hold two jobs in different health care settings, and it aligns with public health goals to achieve herd immunity,” the group said.

The move by the state comes amid concern about the spreading Delta variant and the fragile population in these facilities. But the question is, would a mandate turn people away from these demanding jobs at a time when they’re needed most?

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“There is a delicate balancing act forcing people to be vaccinated and risking losing a significant portion of your staff,” Dr. Kuritzkes said.

Beth Germano