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Good morning. This is Governor John Baldacci.

This week, I signed a Proclamation of Civil Emergency that will help the State in our response to the H1N1 flu.

I’m certain that everyone has heard about H1N1 by now.

This new virus stunned the world during the spring when it first appeared in Mexico and quickly spread around the world, including the State of Maine.

Since it was identified in March, H1N1 has spread through 53 American states and territories and to more than 200 countries.

And there have been more than 2,000 confirmed deaths associated with the disease.

So far, there has been only one death in Maine where H1N1 was involved.

During the spring months, we found that the disease was highly contagious, but wasn’t as dangerous as we had feared.

But our experiences last spring and with summer camps tell us that we must be responsible and aggressive in our response to this unusual flu.

The key to slowing the spread of the disease is to keep it from taking hold in our schools.

The civil emergency declaration protects school districts and health care workers who participate in vaccination clinics from being sued.

As we discussed the importance of school-based vaccination clinics with superintendents and school boards, it became clear that the liability concerns would keep some districts from participating.

With this order, those concerns are answered, and Maine policy tracks with federal policy, which has already granted similar immunity.

It is critical that we make both seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines as widely available as possible.

And it is our goal that every person in Maine be vaccinated.

But we also recognize that not everyone is comfortable with vaccines or might prefer to receive them from their personal health care provider.

The school-based vaccination clinics are completely voluntary.

Parents must give their consent for children to receive the vaccines.

Neither the seasonal flu nor the H1N1 flu vaccines are mandatory.

But we know that the more people who are inoculated, the better chance we have of slowing the disease.

Mercifully, H1N1 has not been as deadly as was feared.

But public health experts warn that it could change rapidly as it begins to circulate again.

Maine will be cautious, responsible, prudent and prepared in its response to H1N1.

Our work began in earnest in March and April, and the Maine Center for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and the Maine Emergency Management Agency are all well-prepared for the work ahead.

Maine has been proactive in its response to this new flu.

But as the school year begins, we must continue our vigilance.

As of this week, Maine has begun to receive doses of the seasonal flu vaccine, and public health workers will begin making it available.

The vaccine for H1N1 will likely be available in October.

It’s important for Mainers to get vaccinations for both to maximize effectiveness.

The flu has the obvious potential to make thousands of people ill.

But the impacts could be much more serious than a few days in bed with flu symptoms.

A fast-spreading flu has the potential to shutdown schools and businesses, close government offices and leave vulnerable individuals without the support and services they depend upon.

There could be broad economic disruption, and tragic consequences for some individuals.

So, I encourage all Mainers to receive the appropriate flu vaccinations.

And I would repeat the same safety message that you have heard from me since April:

• Cover your cough;

• Wash your hands often;

• And if you feel sick, stay at home from work or school.

I know that a lot of people are skeptical about the seriousness of the threat from H1N1.

And frankly, I hope that they are correct.

I hope that this year’s flu season turns out to be no more serious than a typical year.

And that the threat from H1N1 quickly evaporates.

But those are just hopes.

The science tells us we must take this threat seriously, and we must act to stem the spread of H1N1.

It’s a matter of public health and public safety.

Thank you and have a good weekend.

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