By: Paige Riddell, Staff Writer
A significant change in Maine’s Vaccination laws has people in an uproar. On May 24, 2019, Governor Janet Mills signed LD 798 that ended parents’ ability to refuse vaccines for their children for religious or philosophical reasons. Though the new bill does not go into effect until September 2021, a group is already collecting signatures for Maine’s VETO 798 bill.
If LD 798 takes effect, all Maine university system students will have to be fully immunized. On October 18, the Secretary of State will announce whether this issue will be on the March ballot.
A group of mostly parents and others behind the grassroots movement gathered over 93,000 signatures, of people who also don’t want LD 798 to go into effect. An anonymous supporter of the VETO 798 group explained her rationale.
“We want safety and choice. Most of the people fighting for choice are either A. a parent who want to delay or skip certain inoculations for their child’s well being … B. Completely believing in vaccines but do NOT want the government telling us what we have to have injected to receive an education or employment … C. Knowledge about the toxins in vaccines, like me, who don’t want to take the risk… This bill treats us like we’re idiots. If we don’t stand for freedom now we are going to lose it. Again, this is not about just vaccines.”
Over the summer the VETO 798 group gathered and submitted to the state, enough signatures to pass the necessary requirements for a ‘people’s veto’. They had 90 days after adjournment of the legislative session that the act was passed in. The VETO 798 group needed 63,067, ten percent of the votes cast for Governor, which they successfully achieved. Secretary of State’s Office has 30 days to review these signatures. If all the hurdles are cleared, the issue would appear on the March 2020 ballot in the state of Maine.
According to the Maine CDC, religious and philosophical exemptions in the 2018-2019 school year were reaching an all-time high. Over 6.2% of kindergarteners entered public schools unvaccinated this past school year. This takes away the herd immunity that happens when most of the population is immunized, limiting the spread of disease.
According to Maine Immunization Coalition, communities need high rates of immunization to protect those that are unable to get vaccinations, such as those going through chemotherapy or infants.
Cara Sacks, one of the founders of the grassroots effort, spoke about how this bill affects everyone.
“The bill in general, there have been other attempts in the past that remove the exemptions and it didn’t go through. This bill is so broad and so overreaching. It took away both exemptions at once, both philosophical and religious, and the scope of the bill includes all schools. That made people really kind of stand up and think critically.”
She suggested replacing the word vaccine with a different requirement for someone’s body, it would become clear that LD 798 is government mandating what you have to do to get an education. This is a slippery slope, according to Sacks.
“No one is advocating that kids shouldn’t be vaccinated,” Sacks states very clearly. VETO 798’s overall effort is to keep the philosophical and religious exemptions.
Mills said in a statement after signing LD 798 into action, “As governor, it is my responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Maine people, and it has become clear that our current laws do not adequately protect against the risks posed to Mainers… People of goodwill hold sincere beliefs on both sides of the issue, but Maine has a vaccination opt-out rate that is three times higher than the national average for students entering Kindergarten and the state ranks seventh in the country for the rate of non-medical exemptions taken among school-age children.”