It was 3 a.m. when the call came in. Four-year-old Carol Ann could be heard in the background with the telltale stridor of Hemophilus influenzae epiglottitis, a swelling at the base of the tongue that can close off the breathing tube, a not-too-uncommon happening in those years. She had only minutes to make it to the emergency room, where an external breathing tube could be placed to bypass the swelling and save her life. Fortunately, she arrived in time. Also fortunately that was the last time I saw a case of Hemophilis epiglottitis, thanks to a vaccine developed shortly thereafter.

As a pediatrician in the 1960s I watched many serious infectious diseases be eradicated through the development of vaccines. Pediatrics was changed from an inpatient specialty to a mostly outpatient one. Many hospitals closed their pediatric floors for lack of patients to fill beds.

We now face an impending crisis. To protect from vaccine-preventable diseases, 95% of people need to be vaccinated, and Maine is falling behind with a 5.6% opt out rate. Some communities are even at 15%. Last year the Legislature passed a law making medical exemptions the only valid opt out permitted for school attendance and health care employment. A people’s veto challenge is on the ballot in March to negate this law. If passed, preventable illnesses may tragically reappear, and only then will we once again look to vaccines as the miracles they truly are.

Vote no on Question 1.

Norma Dreyfus, M.D.

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