Having worked as a pediatrician for over 40 years, and having shared the anguish of families who lost children to what are now preventable diseases, I have to mask my frustration when I interact with parents who refuse immunizations. No reasonable parent refused the new polio vaccine in the 1950s; everyone knew someone who had been paralyzed by polio. Vaccines have become the victim of their own success, not only young parents, but most doctors who trained in this century have never seen measles, bacterial meningitis, epiglottitis — or even chickenpox.

Most of you who had chickenpox, by the way, remember it as an itchy annoyance that kept you out of school for a week. What you don’t know, however, is that back in the 198’s two or three people in this country died of chickenpox complications each week — bacterial sepsis, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome. These events were rare, but when everyone gets the disease, the number of complications adds up.

Up to a point, parents have a right to make decisions about their kids’ health, even when those decisions put their own children at risk. There are laws enforcing car seat use but we allow tanning (despite skin cancer data). Parents have rights, but when the choices they make impact the health of other children, the community has the right to take a stand.

Events out west have demonstrated the effect of allowing non-medical exemptions to lower school vaccination rates below the levels needed to maintain population immunity.

It’s time for Maine to make a decision to keep our public schools safe. That is why I support L.D. 798, which removes philosophical exemptions from the school immunization requirements.

Sydney Sewall


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