The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention believes unequivocally that children should be vaccinated and that too many parents opt out of having their children vaccinated. But when it comes to how to lower the high opt-out rate, where the agency stands depends on the day you ask.

On Tuesday, CDC Director Kenneth Albert told the Portland Press Herald that he backs a bill making it harder for parents to get vaccination exemptions. On Wednesday, he backtracked, criticizing the legislation and declaring that the reporter had jumped to conclusions. This is a frustrating reversal of course that does nothing to hold those who opt out accountable for the risk that their decision poses to the public health.

Maine has one of the highest rates of unvaccinated children in the country: 4.4 percent, according to recently released figures for the 2014-15 school year. That’s down from 2013-14. But it’s still higher than the national average of children who start school without all their required shots — and high enough to be a threat to the health of adults and children who can’t be immunized because diseases such as cancer or AIDS have impaired their immune systems.

Sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, overwhelmingly passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage in June, the bill at the center of the controversy would have required parents seeking a philosophic exemption to consult with a physician and obtain a signature before opting out.

Having first declared that the Legislature and the LePage administration should consider the bill if it were to be revived, the Maine CDC’s Albert changed course the next day and described the mandate as “a heavy-handed and unnecessary burden” — a hyperbolic description of what the proposal would entail.

It’s only fair that family doctors have the opportunity to sit down face to face with families and present fact-based arguments for the benefits of immunization. After all, parents have endless access to outlier research and anecdotes that confirm their philosophic objections to immunization: the link between vaccines and autism, which has long since been debunked, and skepticism toward studies proving the overwhelming effectiveness and safety of vaccines.

In a letter to the Press Herald, Albert said he’d support “any legislation that encourages dialogue between providers and parents that reinforces the importance of vaccines and the low risk associated with them, and positions the parent to make an informed decision.” Albert apparently believes that Sanborn’s bill wouldn’t meet that goal, but he didn’t specify what such legislation should look like.

Meanwhile, Mainers are still awaiting the implementation of effective solutions to the state’s too-high immunization opt-out rate. All we’ve heard so far is what the LePage administration doesn’t want — just another example of its willingness to substitute finger-pointing and foot-dragging for policymaking, and no help to those who are actually trying to keep Mainers healthy.

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