STATEWIDE – Next week, Mainers will vote on a referendum regarding school vaccination requirements.
The issue brought hundreds to the State House last year before a new law was passed and now the controversy continues.
In a two-part series, we break down what the two sides of that question want you to know before you go to the polls.
Question 1 asks voters whether they want to reject a law signed last year that gets rid of all non-medical exemptions for vaccinating school children.
“We’ve had the same laws on the books for decades and so we’re really just advocating that those minor amount of people are allowed to express conscientious objection,” said Cara Sacks, campaign manager for Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma.
Basically, a “yes” vote means you want the law to allow non-medical exemptions, like it did before Gov. Janet Mills approved the change last year.
A “no” vote means you support the new law that gets rid of philosophical and religious exemptions to immunization.
“That’s one of the things I‘m so fearful of is what if there is an outbreak? Because children like my son are the ones that are the sitting ducks,” said Sarah Staffiere of Waterville.
Her 6-year-old son, Gabe, is immunocompromised.
“My child and all children deserve the right to go to school and have the freedom to be there without being put at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Staffiere.
Meaning not only are his own vaccinations less effective, but he is at higher risk for getting preventable diseases from his Waterville classmates.
“I think you learn to push that fear to the back of your mind so you can function as parent but, I mean, testifying at the hearing has really brought back to the surface a lot,” said Staffiere.
While enough state officials supported the change, it sparked a people’s veto that got 96,000 signatures in 79 days to get on the ballot for March 3.
Sacks said some of the petition signers cited concerns about side effects from vaccines or simply keeping medical freedom and choice as a parent.
“We thought there was no way the bill would pass as written because it was so aggressive to remove both exemptions at the same time,” she said.
Yes on 1 supporters have said the other side is backed by big pharmaceutical companies.
“We feel the industry is at the root of the mandates because there’s growing concern from parents about the aggressiveness of the schedule,” said Sacks.
Doctors said kids need 13 shots before they enter kindergarten.
Medical professionals said they mimic the immune system as it already is.
“I often explain it that if you get a virus that’s in the shape of a ‘C,’ you then develop antibodies in the shape of a ‘C’ and that fights off that virus,” said Dr. Sheena Whittaker, a pediatrician and senior physician executive at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital. “Well, that’s what vaccines do, they produce those antibodies in the shape of a ‘C’ so the next time you see that one you can fight it off.”
Dr. Whittaker, like the Northern Light organization she works for, supports the No on Question 1 effort, along with some parents and dozens of Maine based health organizations.
But some individual medical workers have sided with Yes citing the importance of informed consent between a doctor and patient.
For others, it’s more personal.
“I thought I was doing the right thing by vaccinating my child but I will tell you that there is not a single day that I don’t regret doing it,” said Rachel Ortiz of Bangor.
In part two of this series we will hear from a woman who said her son had a severe vaccine injury that left him with permanent consequences.