Maine repeals non-medical exemptions from immunizations

         By Rita Swan, President Emeritus of CHILD                                                               May 25, 2019

         On May 25 Maine Governor Janet Mills signed into law repeal of religious and philosophical exemptions from immunizations making Maine the fourth state in the nation to have no non-medical exemptions from immunizations.       

         This year Maine had a large pertussis outbreak and the state’s low vaccination rates became a focus of concern. The Maine Medical Assn. and Maine Families for Vaccines promoted a bill to repeal both religious and philosophical exemptions from immunizations. It passed the House by a 19-vote margin but the Senate voted 18-17 to restore the religious exemption. The bill went back to the House, which refused to accept the Senate’s amendment and sent it back to the Senate. Last week Senator Dill switched his vote and the Senate voted 18-17 to accept the House bill without a religious exemption.   

         We salute our Maine CHILD member Janis Price, who worked extremely hard for this excellent result. She made many trips to Augusta to lobby for the bill. This picture of her at the capitol is from her work in 2005.   

         Janis grew up in a Christian Science household and watched her little sister Nancy die of an untreated illness (likely lymphoma). A narrative on how their mother dealt with Nancy’s illness and death is on the Victims page.    

        When California repealed its non-medical exemptions from immunizations in 2015, we hoped that other states would follow its example. Many states have introduced such bills but Maine is the first to get the job done in the past four years.

        Washington State passed a bill prohibiting personal belief/philosophical exemptions for the MMR vaccine but left such exemptions intact for other mandated vaccines. Religious exemptions from all vaccine requirements continue to be available.

        It was amazing how difficult it was to pass even this modest improvement in Washington’s immunization laws in the midst of a large measles outbreak costing the state over a million dollars and resulting in several hospitalizations. It took hours of floor debate in both the House and Senate and would never have passed without Democratic control of both chambers. It is law now.

        Oregon was a strange story in 2019. The Oregon House passed a bill to repeal all Oregon’s non-medical exemptions from immunizations and sources gave it a good chance of passing the Senate. But then the Senate Republicans fled the capitol because they did not want to vote on an education bill. After a week of nothing getting done in the capitol, Oregon Senate Democrats agreed to drop the vaccination and gun safety bills and the Senate Republicans then agreed to return and vote on other bills.

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