Maine Lawmakers Advance Legislation That Could End Some Vaccination Exemptions

Maine could soon cease granting non-medical exemptions to school immunization requirements.

The state Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted 8-5 along party lines to advance a Democrat’s bill to end non-medical vaccine exemptions at schools and some health care facilities.

The bill will now advance to the state House and Senate floors for votes.

“I am grateful to my colleagues for considering all the testimony we have heard and working closely with medical professionals, schools, parents and more to further strengthen this bill,” state Rep. Ryan Tipping (D), who proposed the measure, said in a statement. “As we hear more reports of measles and other preventable diseases in Maine and across the country, it is becoming only more clear that we must act to ensure more students are immunized and the health of our communities is protected.”

Republicans on the education committee opposed Tipping’s bill, claiming it would violate parents’ rights and lead to segregation in schools. State Sen. Russell Black (R) put forth an alternate bill, voted down by Democrats on the committee, to allow doctors to issue non-medical exemptions.

Maine law currently permits parents and guardians to opt children out of school vaccination requirements based on medical needs, as well as religious and philosophical beliefs. Just 16 other states allow both religious and philosophical immunization exemptions in schools, while three states offer no non-medical exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Maine’s exemptions apply to elementary, secondary and postsecondary school students, as well as employees at nursery schools and health care facilities.

Maine has one of the highest non-medical opt-out rates for kindergarten vaccinations in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state also has among the highest rates of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in the U.S. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017 reported the state’s first case of measles in 20 years.

The version of Tipping’s bill that advanced on Wednesday was amended to give current students who are not vaccinated until 2021 to get immunized. It also clarified what constitutes as a medical exemption and aimed to improve “transparency when it comes to what vaccines are required of our students,” according to a release from Tipping’s office.

Lawmakers in Oregon and Washington are also currently considering legislation to end non-medical exemptions to immunization requirements.

New York City on Tuesday ordered mandatory measles vaccinations amid a broad ― and growing ― outbreak of the highly contagious virus in parts of Brooklyn.

Measures to enforce immunization mandates around the country come amid a rise in reported cases of preventable diseases in the wake of a growing anti-vaccination movement.

Some of the pushback stems from the theory ― debunked by numerous, in-depth studies ― that some vaccines are linked to autism.

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