MAINE, USA — Last week, the Maine Senate joined the House in supporting a measure to eliminate all non-medical exemptions for vaccinations needed to attend schools in the state.
Gov. Janet Mills is expected to sign that bill.
Her administration says Maine's vaccination opt-out rate is so high, it's alarming public health experts.
Parents, who support vaccine choice, says if Gov. Mills signs this bill, she will be back-tracking on a campaign promise.
Natasha Suleiman is one of those parents. Suleiman, who lives in Gorham, has three children. All have been vaccinated. She never questioned it, until her youngest child had a serious vaccine reaction when he was very young.
"The reasons why people don't always vaccinate -- it's a wide range of reasons."
Suleiman strongly believes parents should be able to choose whether or not to vaccinate their kids.
So when Janet Mills was running for governor, Suleiman asked her via Facebook where she stood on the issue.
She got her answer, and so did a lot of other parents who asked Mills the same question.
"The answer I got and a lot of other parents got was that not only does she support the exemptions, she would not get rid of them."
Because of Mills' stance, Suleiman voted for her. She now believes Mills has flip-flopped because all indications are that Mills will sign the vaccination bill when it reaches her desk.
"I feel betrayed by the Democratic party," Suleiman said.
The Maine Senate voted 18-17 last Tuesday in favor of the bill that would deny parents the ability to exclude their kids from mandatory school vaccines for religious and philosophical reasons.
The bill, L.D. 798, will eliminate non-medical vaccine exemptions for:
- ALL daycare (public and private)
- ALL preschool (public and private)
- ALL k-12 (public, private, online, and charter)
- ALL colleges and universities (public and private)
- ALL technical, vocational, trade schools, and community colleges
- ALL healthcare facilities
When NEWS CENTER Maine asked the Mills' administration about her comments on vaccinations during her campaign, her spokesman Scott Ogdon sent us the following statement.
“Maine has a vaccination opt-out rate that is three times higher than the national average for students entering kindergarten, and the state ranks seventh in the country for the rate of non-medical exemptions taken among school age children. The opt-out rate is so high that it is alarming public health experts who, in turn, are warning us that the state is growing more vulnerable to the return of preventable infectious diseases. In fact, in just the past few months, Maine schools in Lincoln, York, and Cumberland counties have all experienced whooping cough outbreaks. Earlier this year, for the first time in three years, an unvaccinated child died in Washington County died from the flu. Governor Mills supported Maine’s vaccination laws – including the current exemptions – and, like every other Mainer, she highly values personal choice. But, as governor, she is charged with protecting the health and safety of all Maine people, and it has become clear that current laws do not adequately protect against the health risks posed to Mainers. That is why her administration supports the bill under consideration now in the Legislature. As the events of the past several months demonstrate, we are just one case away from a serious, and potentially deadly, outbreak – something we can avoid through vaccinations.”
Maine Families for Vaccines, an advocacy group, believes everyone has a duty to vaccinate their kids. The group sent NEWS CENTER Maine the following statement on Monday.
"Governor Mills’ support for LD 798 shows that she is doing exactly what we hope for from our elected officials: in face of a public health crisis, she performed a critical analysis of the facts and circumstances. With a national measles outbreak affecting 22 states and 30 million people planning to visit Maine this year, we expect that any leader would consider updating weak public health policies to keep our kids and vulnerable adults safe from preventable disease."
Suleiman says having the freedom to vaccinate or not with a child's doctor or family is really important.
"We really thought we had a candidate who says, 'We're going to protect your rights'. If she had said to me, 'We shouldn't have any non-medical exemptions. It should be mandated, except medical' -- I would have broke from my party and voted for a republican."
Suleiman says if the law is passed, a lot of parents and supporters of vaccine choice will either home-school their kids or find a new state to call home.
Further procedural votes are expected in the legislature Tuesday, May 21.
If the bill passes those votes, the Governor will have ten days to sign it.