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Maine ballot re-sparks vaccination exemptions debate

Come March, Maine voters will have the chance to overturn the bill removing religious and philosophical exemptions from the state’s school vaccination law.

MAINE, USA — Come March 2020, Maine voters will have the chance to overturn the bill removing religious and philosophical exemptions (LD 798) from the state’s school vaccination law in Question 1's veto referendum.

In May 2019, the Maine Senate voted to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend public or private schools, as well as colleges and daycare facilities, and for employees of healthcare facilities in the state. 

Later that month, Governor Janet Mills signed the bill (LD 798) into law removing all non-medical exemptions to vaccination from the books.

With Mills' signature, Maine became the fourth state in the nation to rule out religious or philosophical exemptions to immunization. 

The law isn't scheduled to go fully into effect until September 1, 2021.

Maine's CDC reported in April that immunization rates among school-age children was on the decline across the state for most diseases, and was already below the level required for "herd immunity," the threshold at which enough individuals in a population are immune that disease transmission is unlikely, even among the unvaccinated.

Come March, a "yes" vote would be a vote to repeal LD 798, reinstating religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions in the state. A "no" vote would be a vote to uphold it. 

The campaign "Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma" has over $300,000 in contributions to date.

The campaign "Maine Families for Vaccines" has just over $60,000.

When asked about that difference at a Tuesday rally in Augusta, Dr. Laura Blaisdell from the Maine Families for Vaccines said, "the opposition has decided to take this issue to a referendum and it's expensive but that was not our choice."

Dr. Laura Blaisdell and others say this is about safety.

"Rejecting this referendum is really important to protect Maine's children and keep all children safe and healthy in their schools."

But for others, it's about freedom.

Rhonda Snyder, a mother, says medical exemptions are hard to obtain. Her daughter suffered complications from a vaccine.

"And because of this bill, she will be kicked out of school for missing one dose of one vaccine while her twin brother gets to go to school  because he had no issues."

A deeply divided issue that's up to the voters to decide on, again.

Most states allow religious exemptions for student vaccinations. Maine is one of five states now to limit those exemptions and other states are considering similar legislation.


A veto referendum is a type of citizen-initiated ballot measure that asks voters whether to uphold or repeal a law passed by the state legislature, a city council, a county board of supervisors, or some other legislative body, according to www.ballotpedia.org.


NEWS CENTER Maine is following the legislative measures taking place before the March 2020 vote and will continue to bring you coverage. 

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