STATEWIDE – In part two of our series on the upcoming vaccine vote, we delve deeper into what a “yes” and “no” vote mean on Question 1.
“I used to think anyone who questioned vaccination was essentially a nutcase … Nothing changes your mind like seeing something happen right before your eyes,” said Rachel Ortiz of Bangor.
Ortiz said she thought she was doing the right thing when she vaccinated her then 15-month-old son.
According to Ortiz, after getting an MMR and DTaP vaccine, Connor went into a seizure and was permanently brain damaged.
“My life changed forever. My son has the developmental capacity of a toddler,” she said.
Now 17 years old, Connor is the reason Ortiz will be voting “yes” on Question 1.
The referendum asks Mainers whether they want to *yes change a new law to once again allow philosophical and religious exemptions for vaccinating school children” or “no keep the new law and ban non-medical exemptions.”
“Rare does little to comfort the mother who is dealing with the averse reaction but until science and doctors can tell me why my child is suffering, then we shouldn’t be mandating,” said Ortiz.
A doctor we spoke with in Ellsworth said other than minor swelling, she has not seen any negative side effects from vaccines, and that numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.
She said immunization is safe and prevents serious illnesses.
“I think people have forgotten what those diseases can do, that they can cause paralysis like in polio, they can cause death,” said Dr. Sheena Whittaker, a pediatrician and senior physician executive with Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital. “I‘ve been to South America, where those diseases are real and alive.”
Dr. Whittaker said medical exemptions are difficult to get.
Data from the Maine CDC said in the 2018-2019 school year, 6.2 percent of Maine’s kindergarteners had an exemption for vaccination. Only 0.6 percent of those exemptions were medical.
Yes on 1 supporters want to protect the choice of the rest of those parents.
“We are not arguing that no one should be vaccinated. Vaccines can be a really important part of public health. However, I think a lot of problems are falsely attributed to those who opt out,” said Cara Sacks, campaign manager of Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma.
Doctors said while there have been no outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in eastern Maine, we usually see outbreaks later simply because we’re geographically isolated.
“But all it takes is one person from another country or from the south to land at our Bangor airport and then we’re exposed,” said Dr. Whittaker.
She said vaccination is about keeping herd immunity, meaning if enough people are vaccinated it protects those at increased risk, like the elderly or immunocompromised kids.
“If we get enough people immunized, that 85 to 95 percent, we protect the whole population,” said Dr. Whittaker.
That’s why Sarah Staffiere of Waterville, who we told you about in the first part of this series, will be voting “no” to protect her immunocompromised child and to support the new law passed last year.
“I feel that the process it went through in the State House was on where lawmakers were very considerate of everyone’s opinion. They heard hours and hours of testimony,” said Staffiere.
Question 1 will be on the ballot March 3. Also of note, Maine has same-day voter registration.