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Maine

Mainers to Weigh in on Vaccine Referendum on Super Tuesday

The referendum would overturn a law taking effect in 2021 eliminating certain vaccine exemptions for children in public schools

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When Mainers go to the polls during Super Tuesday next week, they will not just be selecting a Democratic presidential candidate. They will also get to weigh in on a referendum that would overturn a law taking effect in 2021 eliminating certain vaccine exemptions for children in public schools.

In spring 2019, the Maine legislature passed a bill that takes away a parent's ability to choose not to vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons if they also want to send that child to public schools.

The legislation passed Maine's senate by just one vote and since that point, groups have been calling for the vaccine exemptions to be restored.

Opponents of a more strict public school vaccine mandate have formed a formal campaign to get rid of the regulations called Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma.

The group has put signs up on front lawns across the state and at bus stops in Portland.

"Our campaign is about overturning a law that passed by one vote in the Maine legislature in the spring," said Cara Sacks, the campaign manager for Yes on 1. "It's really more of a moral thing, it's a huge breach of government to be mandating those medical interventions in exchange for education."

Supporters of the law have created a more loose coalition but include the Maine Medical Association and MaineHealth which operates Maine Medical Center.

The groups says preventable diseases like pertussis and measles are getting Maine kids sick and are putting immune-compromised individuals at risk.

"We have over 200 years of evidence that show repeatedly vaccines are safe and save lives," said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Chief Health Improvement Officer for MaineHealth. "It's part of a social contract to protect our children and to protect other children."

Yes on One argues, however, many children are vaccinated already.

Sacks believes it's unfair to demand compliance from parents uncomfortable with vaccines.

"A no vote keeps the law as it is right now," Sack said. "We're very confident Mainers will see this an issue of having your individual right to choose overridden by the government."

Opponents are taking a different view.

"We have doctors who've told children, 'you cannot go to school because your school vaccine rate is too low,'" Mills said.

According to a Portland Press Herald report earlier this month, pharmaceutical companies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads to push Maine to keep the vaccine law.

Recent data also shows Maine has had the highest rates of pertussis in the country.

The vote on the vaccine law is March 3.

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