Question 1 on the March 3 ballot reads: “Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?

A yes vote allows religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccinations. A no vote only allows medical exemptions.

Independents — those not enrolled in any political party — can vote on referendum questions such as Question 1. Do not let a poll worker deny you your right to vote on Question 1 because you are not registered in a political party.

Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma, formally Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, opposes the  law passed last year, claiming it violates their religious freedom. Cara Sacks, co-chairwoman of the group said: “A people’s veto is the chance for citizens to challenge our government when they pass a law that we believe is not in the best interest of our state and not a true representation of the people’s will.”

Fair enough. But the Supreme Court ruled the government must protect people from actions taken for religious reasons if that action endangers another’s health. Granting religious exemptions endanger others and provide some people with religious privilege. We can only protect religious freedom for everyone if no one has religious privilege.

The group’s road signs — “Yes on Question 1 / No to Big Pharma” — don’t pass scrutiny either. Many people think the misleading signs mean a yes vote will lower drug prices. But it won’t. What it will do is increase the risk of children catching a deadly and preventable disease.

Maine Families for Vaccines, a group supporting the current law, knows “parents who refuse to vaccinate their children put vulnerable children at risk for contracting deadly (and preventable) diseases.” Measles is highly contagious because the virus can remain in the air for two hours after an infected person, often without symptoms, leaves the area. Most unvaccinated people who walk into that area will get the measles. Caitlin Gilmet, a spokesperson for the group, said: “Vaccines are one of the most effective ways that parents can protect their children and help them lead a healthy life. Improving Maine’s immunization rates helps to protect the entire community from preventable diseases.”

The Maine CDC reports: “Among kindergartners, the state’s vaccination-exemption rate (is) 6.2%, the highest level in 10 years, and is above the national level.” The center also reports: “Forty-three elementary schools (have) 15 percent or higher rates of unvaccinated kindergarten students, putting those schools and the surrounding community at greater risk for the return of preventable diseases such as measles, chickenpox, and pertussis.”

Dr. Meghan May, a University of New England pathologist, said in an interview on WMTW-TV that despite decades of scientific research showing vaccines are effective and safe there is a significant anti-vaccination movement in Maine. Consequently Maine’s pertussis (whooping cough) infection rate is more than eight times higher than the national average. Refusing to vaccinate children allows the pertussis virus to spread and mutate more rapidly; making current vaccines less effective. Pertussis has a 40 percent mortality rate in infants who are unvaccinated and untreated.

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a Yarmouth pediatrician and founder of Maine Families for Vaccines said: “Ultimately, it’s about the health of children, the health of schools, and the health of our community” and “If we continue on our current (vaccine opt-out) track, it’s not a matter of if we get an outbreak; it’s a matter of when.”

Sacks, of Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma, said “While we don’t know that all (vaccines) are 100% safe for 100% of people every time, you can’t mandate a product that has known risks and liability associated with it.”

According to the CDC, the “known risks and liability associated with” unvaccinated children contracting measles are – “ten percent of children will have an ear infection, five percent will come down with pneumonia, and .2 percent will die of organ failure or brain swelling.” Are these “known risks and liabilities associated with” not vaccinating children an acceptable risk for your child, especially when another parent puts your child at greater risk of catching the measles by not vaccinating their child?

Maine cannot afford to let a small group of dedicated people decide to put your child’s health in harm’s way. I urge you to protect everyone’s health and religious freedom by voting no on Question 1 on March 3.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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