FILE - ME Vaccination, vaccine, COVID-19 5-12-2021

Jennifer Conary looks away as she receives a COVID-19 vaccination May 12, 2021, in Auburn, Maine.

(The Center Square) – Maine Gov. Janet Mills is giving health care workers more time to get vaccinated for COVID-19 with the state facing a legal challenge over the new mandate.

Doctors, nurses, dental workers and others in the state's health care system now have until Oct. 29 to get a jabbed under the extended timeline for enforcing the new requirement.

Under Mills' executive order, health care workers in the state were initially given until Oct. 1 to be fully vaccinated against the virus.

Mills said the extra time will allow health care workers to make their preparations to get their shots.

"My goal is that every health care worker in Maine is vaccinated," she said in a statement. "Anyone who is placed in the care of a healthcare worker has the right to expect – as do their families – that they will receive high-quality, safe care from fully vaccinated staff."

Mills said the extension will also give health care facilities more time to use $146 million in pandemic relief funding to help with staffing and workforce needs.

The vaccine mandate includes health care workers in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, firefighters, emergency medical service organizations and dental workers.

Only medical exemptions will be allowed, not religious or philosophical.

Healthcare facilities that do not comply with the vaccine mandate will be at risk of losing their state license, the Mills administration said.

Mills said the new rules are needed to prevent further outbreaks as the state battles a resurgence of the virus that has contributed to a rise in new infections and hospitalizations.

Maine's two largest hospital systems, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health, previously announced they will require health care workers to get the vaccine.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is requiring COVID-19 vaccines for all health care employees who work for the federal government.

"It remains the single most effective way to keep our patients and caregivers safe, which is our number one priority," said Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, one of several health groups supporting the vaccine mandate. “We will continue to implement the requirement and educate our employees on these safe and effective vaccines.”

But the new mandate faces a legal challenge filed by the Florida-based Liberty Council on behalf of more than 2,000 Maine health care workers, alleging that the state is violating federal law by requiring vaccinations for health care workers, without allowing a religious exemption for those who object.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court last week, mentions several unidentified medical workers who have religious objections to the vaccines but have either been fired or told they can't be employed in health care because they refuse to get vaccinated.

In court a filing, the Liberty Counsel argues that religious objections to the vaccines must be allowed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the First Amendment.