Mainers voting in Tuesday’s presidential primary overwhelmingly decided to keep a new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccines. The measure, which will take effect in September 2021, had faced fierce opposition from some religious groups and personal freedom advocates.
Maine voters were asked on their ballots whether they wanted to reject the new law, which applies to K-12 and university students, as well as employees of nursery schools and health care facilities.
With 67% of precincts reporting, 73% of voters chose to uphold the new law.
“Mainers are practical folks who clearly listened to medical professionals,” Bobby Reynolds, campaign manager of “No on 1,” which had pushed for the law’s approval, told Bangor Daily News.
“At its core, this was a public health issue,” Reynolds added.
Scientists overwhelmingly agree that vaccines are safe and effective at preventing a plethora of illnesses including measles, mumps, whooping cough and polio. A 95% vaccination rate, however, is required to achieve “herd immunity” within a community and to prevent disease outbreaks.
In Maine, vaccination rates for many diseases have fallen below that critical threshold. According to NPR, more than 5% of kindergarteners in the state are unvaccinated because of nonmedical exemptions — a rate more than twice the national average.
Maine has the country’s second-highest rate of whooping cough, NPR noted. Doctors in the state have also expressed concerns about potential measles outbreaks.
Retired schoolteacher Barbara Grant told the Portland Press Herald this week that she supported the new vaccine law because she’d witnessed firsthand “the impact of unvaccinated children in school.”
“I am a strong ‘no’ vote,” Grant said.
Maine is now one of five states that don’t allow nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations.