Letter to the editor

Protecting our children

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 8:15pm
We residents of Waldo County are writing to express our profound disappointment that our State Senator, Erin Herbig, voted against protecting our children’s health last week. 
Maine has some of the lowest childhood vaccination rates in the United States and these rates are dropping. If our vaccination rates continue to fall we will lose so-called herd immunity which protects all of us from the spread of communicable diseases. For many people such diseases are mild but for others they can cause serious side effects such as deafness or encephalitis and even death. Newborns and immunocompromised children and adults will be particularly at risk but anyone who is not immune is in danger, including the very children whose parents have refused to vaccinate them. 
As a response to this looming public health crisis Maine’s House passed LD798 An Act To Protect Maine Children and Students from Preventable Diseases by Repealing Certain Exemptions from the Laws Governing Immunization Requirements.  
This bill states that only medical reasons can be used to exempt children attending schools or daycares from required vaccinations. The bill as passed by the House was itself the result of a compromise which expanded both the types of professionals who can grant the medical exemption, and the medical reasons for exemption. 
We know this issue is one which arouses strong feelings and which necessarily puts rights in conflict, and we applaud Representatives Jan Dodge and Paige Ziegler for making the very difficult decision to place public health and the greatest good for the greatest number first. They both voted in favor of the amended House bill. Erin Herbig also voted for that bill in the Senate however she then undercut that vote as described below.
When LD798 went before the Maine Senate yet another amendment was proposed to retain the currently existing exemption on religious grounds.  Getting a religious exemption in Maine is trivially easy.  When Vermont recently removed philosophical, but not religious, exemptions the result was that parents simply switched from claiming philosophical to claiming religious exemptions. 
There is Supreme Court precedent that vaccination mandates even without religious exemptions are constitutional. Also California moved to allow only medical exemptions in 2015 and that law has not been challenged on grounds of religious freedom.
If religious exemptions to vaccination are allowed it is highly likely that parents who do not want to vaccinate for other reasons will take advantage of them. In this case vaccination rates will not increase and herd immunity is likely to be lost in parts of Maine. Thus the bill plus amendment as passed in the Senate may likely result in no changes to the current vaccination rates. This is a clear risk to Maine’s children and others. Senator Herbig voted in favor of the religious exemption amendment, which passed by one vote.
The Maine House will be reconsidering LD798 soon. We call on Representatives Jan Dodge and Paige Ziegler to stay strong and not to vote for the religious exemption amendment and we call on Senator Herbig to rethink her support for that amendment should she have another opportunity.
Elaine Bielenberg, Belfast
Johnna Brazier, Islesboro
Mike and Geoff Bird, Belfast
Phyllis Coelho and Larry Litchfield, Belfast
Susan Conard, Northport
Chris Corson and Alexia Morgan, Northport
Kirk Earl, Northport
Bob Fargey and Trudy Miller, Northport
Steve and Shelley Fein, Northport
Carol Gater, Belfast
Jan Geller, Searsmont
Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield, Northport
Barbara Gould and Mike Ray, Lincolnville
Don and Lynn Hoenig, Belfast
Judy Judkins, Belfast
Pat Meisner, Northport
Rev. Dr. Duncan Newcomer, Northport
Mary and Bob Rackmales, Belfast
Beverly Roxby, Belfast
David Smith and Linda Garson Smith, Belfast
John and Kathy Williams, Lincolnville