Maine vaccine exemption bill – eliminates all non-medical exemptions

maine vaccine exemptions

As a result of the ongoing measles epidemic, a lot of states are restricting or removing non-medical vaccine exemptions. Recently, the Maine vaccine exemption bill was signed into law. It eliminates all personal belief exemptions for children attending school, though it still allows for medical exemptions.

Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss recently wrote about the new Maine vaccine exemption bill. She described that the Maine House initially approved the bill, but added back religious exemptions which are abused by anti-vaccine parentsno mainstream religion in the world is opposed to vaccines

Eventually, the Maine House agreed to the language in the Senate version, which eliminated religious exemptions, and it was sent to Maine’s Governor Janet Mills, who signed it into law on 24 May 2019.

The Maine vaccine exemption bill is similar to strong pro-vaccine laws in California, Mississippi, and West Virginia that limit so-called “personal belief exemptions,” that is, vaccine exemptions that are for any reason other than medical contraindications.

Maine Vaccine Exemption
An iconic photo of the Maine coastline. And protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Maine House Representative Ryan Tipping, said:

As we hear more reports of measles and other preventable diseases in Maine and across the country, it has become clear that we must act to ensure the health of our communities.

The abuse of these personal belief exemptions has led to a decrease in vaccination rates, which brings the rate below the level necessary to maintain herd immunity – that is, a sufficiently high enough percentage of individuals who have been vaccinated that prevent the disease from spreading to unvaccinated individuals.  

Opponents of this law are promising a court fight as they have done in California (and losing every single time). They are trying to present an argument that removing religious exemptions are an infringement of “religious liberty.” However, numerous Supreme Court decisions, such as Prince v Massachusetts and Jacobson v Massachusetts, give the state quite a bit of latitude to protect its citizens and, especially, its children.

Maine vaccine exemption
Maine lobster. Nothing to do with vaccines. Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

According to another article by Professor Reiss,

Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.

In other words, the “religious liberty” argument is extremely weak, especially, as I mentioned above, there are no mainstream religions that oppose vaccines. In fact, most strong support them because they protect the lives of children.

At any rate, let’s congratulate Maine for strengthening vaccine laws. And for keeping religion out of a medical decision. Irony intended.



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Maine vaccine exemptions – non-medical exceptions eliminated for schools

After extensive efforts from public health and the immunization coalition to revise Maine vaccine exemptions, and in the face of determined opposition, on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the Maine Senate voted for a bill removing religious and personal belief exemptions to school vaccination requirements. The bill will now go to the Governor’s office, and Governor Janet Mills – whose administration already expressed support for the bill – is expected to sign it. 

The bill, LD 798, has been in the works for a while, over strong opposition from the resident anti-vaccine groups. It simply removes the language creating the non-medical exemptions, such as for religion and personal beliefs.

maine vaccine exemptions
Bar Harbor, Maine. Now protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo by Gibson Hurst™ on Unsplash

On the support side, the grassroots group Maine Families for Vaccines spoke in favor of the bill, and medical associations, including the Maine American Academy of Pediatricians, worked to explain it and support it. A previous bill, similar in language, passed through the Maine Legislature, but it was subsequently vetoed by the (then) governor

The new Maine vaccine exemptions bill went through the legislative process with some drama. After passing through the House, the Senate approved the bill, but – in an 18:17 vote – added back a religious exemption.

On returning the bill to the house, the House reaffirmed their commitment to the removal of both the personal belief and the religious exemptions – in procedural terms, it “insisted”, and sent the original bill back to the Senate to vote on it again. After negotiations, one of the Senators who supported adding the religious exemption back in reversed course, and the original bill – removing both the personal belief and the religious exemption – passed 18 to 17.

maine vaccine exemptions
Portland, Maine. Also protected by removing some of the Maine vaccine exemptions. Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

As mentioned above, the Governor is expected to sign it.

The price of the change appears to be somewhat weakening the controls on religious exemptions by preventing the Department of Health and Human Services from regulating them and allowing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant to grant them.

In addition, children with an individualized educational plan can continue to attend, as long as the parents – or the student, if over 18 – have consulted with a licensed physician about “the risks and benefits associated with the choice to immunize.”

Maine – whose exemption rate was high, and who has seen a large outbreak of pertussis in past years – thus joins California, West Virginia and Mississippi as states with no non-medical exemptions. It also provides the second legislative win for public health this season, after Washington passed a bill removing the personal belief exemption to the MMR vaccine.

Congratulations, Maine, and let us hope this step helps keep your children safe and serves as a model to more states.