On Tuesday, March 3, Maine voters overwhelmingly rejected Question 1 on the ballot, deciding to keep the new law that bans nonmedical exemptions for vaccines required for children to attend school in the state.
Question 1, a people’s veto referendum, asked if Mainers wanted to reject the new law that was introduced last year by Gov. Janet Mills. The law removed philosophical and religious exemptions as valid reasons for abstaining from certain communicable disease immunizations. Mills signed LD 798 into law last May but was met with resentment from religious groups in the state of Maine. Since the people’s veto failed to pass, the law will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2021.
Of the approximately 383,000 votes cast on Question 1, results from 100% of Maine’s voting precincts indicated that over 72% of voters voted not to overturn LD 798. This result was hailed as a success by Maine politicians, public figures and physicians.
Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a Maine pediatric specialist, worked with the “No on 1” campaign, which sought to counteract what was said to be a “false information” campaign by proponents of the people’s veto.
“Mainers knew that the safest thing we can do was to vote no on one,” Blaisdell said.
However, Mainers that oppose the law include Cara Sacks, the co-chair of Mainers for Health and Parental Rights and Rep. Justin Fecteau, a Republican from Maine’s 86th district.
“[LD 798] is an incredibly punitive and overreaching law that allows our government to mandate medical intervention,” Sacks said.
Critics of LD 798 have said Tuesday’s election was not a fair representation of the way that Mainer’s feel about vaccination requirements because the referendum was held during the democratic presidential candidate primaries.
“Because there was little Republican incentive to vote on Tuesday, the vote may not be the full picture of how Mainers feel about this issue,” Sacks said after hearing the results on Tuesday night.
Gov. Mills reacted to the vote on Tuesday night, after hearing that Mainers were leaning towards upholding the law.
“Tonight, the health and wellbeing of Maine children prevailed. This law leaves medical exemptions up to medical professionals and ensures that Maine children are better protected from the spread of dangerous communicable diseases,” Mills stated. “It is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our kids.”
Because the law will be upheld, Mainers are hoping to see the number of children who are vaccinated against Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) increase. In recent years, Maine officials noted that the number of students vaccinated with the MMR immunization had dropped below 94%, which did not meet the “herd” immunization level of 95%. Herd immunization, or immunization of a majority of the population, is effective because if a large group is immune to the virus, it is less likely that it will be spread to someone else that could be susceptible to infection.
“A misconception is that the law forces individuals and parents to accept vaccinations that they do not want for themselves of their children,” wrote Robert Pinsky, chairman of the infection prevention and control committee at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. “This is clearly not the case. Any individual continues to have the right to decline vaccination for themselves or their children regardless of the universal recommendations of the medical and scientific community. But exercising that right comes with a fundamental social responsibility, to not endanger others by one’s personal decisions.”