Local legislators split on bill to limit vaccination exemptions

By Stephen Betts | Mar 14, 2019

Augusta — Knox County legislators are divided on a bill before the Maine Legislature that would limit the exemptions for immunizations.

The Legislature held a hearing Wednesday, March 13, on a bill that would eliminate the exemptions from the requirement for schoolchildren and others to be vaccinated based on religious or philosophical reasons. Currently Maine law allows exemptions for those reasons as well as for medical reasons.

The hearing lasted until 2 a.m. Thursday, as hundreds of people turned out for a public hearing on the bill  -- LD 798.

The bill would require a child to be immunized to attend school -- from elementary to post-secondary -- as well as requiring adults who work in schools or health care facilities to be immunized. The law would allow medical exemptions.

The Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee has not yet voted on the measure, and because the hearing went into the next morning, has not yet scheduled a work session.

State Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, said he would oppose the bill.

"There have always been religious objections, which the government has chosen to honor. If a religion practices beliefs that come into conflict with the laws of the land, the government has to decide if their objections are valid. In the case of refusing vaccinations, this has been settled and is allowed. Since this is the case, no person, business or educational institution should be able to discriminate unilaterally," Miramant said.

The state senator said when the ingredients of vaccines became public information, many people began to question whether the benefits outweighed the risks. He said manufacturers were using known poisons in vaccines, and that a previously unknown disease now well known as autism began to appear after severe reactions in children who were vaccinated.

"The manufacturers of the vaccines have resisted efforts to make changes, even as the number of vaccines required before the age of 2 years has grown to over 20. This gives children a dose of mercury 80 times higher than the accepted safe level. This and other information about the cycles of disease opened up the personal exemption that allowed parents who were concerned about their children’s safety and well being to opt out of the mandated vaccination schedule and pick schedules that are much safer," he said.

"When people follow the law and make choices that are theirs to make, there can be no justification to allow fear to condone discrimination. While the theory of herd immunity has not been proven, herd mentality has. Experience with vaccines has not given cause to allow discrimination in education based on herd mentality," the Camden legislator said.

Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, said she supports the bill to reduce exemptions. "To me it's a matter of the public health, of the well-being of the many -- I don't see it as an individual rights issue," Beebe-Center said. "I support the medical exemptions."

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, said "As a mom, I do not take lightly anything that poses risks to our children.

"I've heard from constituents on both sides of this debate: those who are strongly in favor of the public health benefits of immunization, as well as those who are vaccine-hesitant because they have children who they feel are medically fragile.  I am watching to see  how the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee works this bill after hearing today's public testimony, because they may choose to broaden the medical exemption, as has been done in other states. I would support a broader medical exemption, and I believe this would address many parents' very real concerns," Doudera said.

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, independent of Friendship, said March 13  "While I'm waiting to see what comes out of the Education Committee today in the way of possible amendments, I will not support a bill that does not contain very strong medical exemptions approved by a licensed physician.

"While vaccines worked miracles for us in the 1950s in reference to polio, recent additives have raised legitimate concerns about serious reactions in a small number of people. Medical exemptions are important for that reason," Evangelos said.

He said he would support another bill -- LD 987 -- that strengthens medical exemptions.

Rep. William Pluecker, independent of Warren, said any law must ensure that children can get medical exemptions from immunizations. "This is not a one-size-fits-all policy that works across the board," Pluecker said.

Rep. Genevieve McDonald, D-Stonington, who also represents Vinalhaven and North Haven, said Immunizations are safe. She is a cosponsor of the bill.

"Immunizations are effective. Immunizations protect public health and prevent the reintroduction of infectious diseases into our schools and communities. Immunizations protect our most vulnerable citizens -- my children are part of the vulnerable population that depends on herd immunity. Vulnerable populations should be able to depend on safe schools and safe communities," McDonald said.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Brian Pierce | Mar 17, 2019 08:43

Kendall is correct.  For some vaccines and some diseases, this is not simply a personal medical choice but a public health problem.

For measles, unvaccinated adults and children pose a significant risk to the rest of the community as measles is easily transmitted in public.  Going to school or to the supermarket becomes a high risk affair if we have a small but significant percentage of unvaccinated people in the community.  This is now an issue in 12 states.

If parents want to take the risk of their children dying of horrible diseases because of misinformation, that's sad and something we can work on through education but for diseases which spread easily in public it is appropriate to use the law so they don't put the rest of us at risk.

As a local family physician, I'm disappointed in Sen. David Miramant's statement on this issue.  He's apparently fallen victim to the same misinformation and motivated reasoning as the passionate but misguided anti-vaxxers.

Hopefully, he and the rest of the legislator will tighten requirements for vaccines for diseases that are public health problems while preserving liberty and choice for private health decisions.


Brian Pierce MD


Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Mar 15, 2019 22:52

Mercury-containing preservatives were removed from children's vaccines starting in 2001.



Posted by: Joseph Steinberger | Mar 15, 2019 15:53

Where will the line be drawn? Can government force us to inject our children with whatever drugs they decide are good for them? Now it is vaccines of various sorts. Tomorrow it may be Ritalin, or Oxycodone, or whatever the big pharma lobbyists promote. I am not an anti-vaxxer, my child has had all the "recommended" vaccines, but I do worry about government-mandated medication and the loss of freedom that entails. We may not always like other peoples choices, but it is nice to have some choice ourselves.

Posted by: Madeline Alexander | Mar 15, 2019 09:18

Does David Miramant not read the news or bother to educate himself on this issue? I can't believe what I am reading here. There are measles outbreaks all over the country caused by the false information spread by the anti-vaccine movement, and, apparently, by some of our own elected representatives!  Rates of the disease and death have increased in 2017 due to a decrease in immunization. It is hypocrisy for parents who refuse to have their children immunized to rely on the herd immunity conferred by those that do.

Posted by: cathy Cleaveland | Mar 15, 2019 05:38

Thank you Kendall!

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Mar 14, 2019 15:46

Parents have the right to be anti-vaxers. Parents do not have the right to expose their un-vaccinated children to other children, particularly those chilren with fragile immune systems, in public schools. Anti-vaxers and their adherents have adopted false beliefs about vaccines that originated from a British physician's false study that was long ago debunked and he lost his license to practice. Since then, anti-vaxers have spread their false information, touted falsely as "science", all over the internet, which "cause" has been taken up, in full force, by uninformed believers. Measles outbreaks in America and in other counties have been the dangerous result. There is no scientific evidence that immunizations cause autism, which anti-vaxers falsely claim.

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