Dr. Meryl Nass, MD, had her Maine medical license temporarily suspended for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. I might have ignored this one, except Dr. Nass has written misleading articles about COVID-19 and vaccines for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., one of our favorite anti-vaxxers.
State medical licensing boards are fighting back against COVID-19 disinformation, and Dr. Meryl Nass should have known better, but my expectations are obviously too high.
This article about the Supreme Court and how it may use religious freedom against vaccine mandates was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.
On 29 October 2021, the Supreme Court rejected a request to stay – put on hold – Maine’s vaccine mandates for healthcare workers, which did not include a religious exemption. Many people in the immunization community are excited and happy about this decision.
Without wanting to be a downer, I want to explain why this decision – though certainly better than the alternative, staying the mandate – should cause us concern. Basically, three justices on the Court signed onto an opinion that essentially says that public health writ large is not a compelling state interest (in the middle of a deadly pandemic), that thinks that the right comparison is one religious exemption to one medical exemption (rather than consider aggregate effects) and that if other states are less protective of their citizens’ health, a state can’t limit religion to protect its citizens better.
What was not in the decision is any concern about the effects of COVID-19, a disease that is still killing over 1,000 Americans a day. That is highly problematic. But more concerning is the fact that two other justices were not willing to stay the mandate via emergency proceedings, but saying no more, implying that they are open to considering requiring a religious exemption (though they are certainly not saying they would – and these justices probably could use more information on why requiring a religious exemption from vaccines mandates is problematic).
This article, about major religions and vaccines, shows that many claims that vaccinations are against religion are not supported by actual religious dogma. As a result, several states, like New York, California, and Maine, have taken steps to limit and or eliminate religious exemptions to vaccines as a result of the abuse of the exemption.
The father is a Roman Catholic and claimed that his church was opposed to vaccines. As far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccines, with Pope Francis stating that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is an “act of love,” even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…”
The Catholic Church even supports the use of those vaccines manufactured using permanent cell lines that derive from aborted fetuses. In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.
This all leads me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religions and vaccines. Of course, researchers much smarter than this old dinosaur examined the issue – spoiler alert, religions broadly support vaccinations.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.
It is not uncommon for anti-vaccine activists, like the Hear This Well group, to misrepresent pending legislation or passed legislation. Striking examples included anti-vaccine activists claiming that SB276, the California law that added a review of medical exemptions, would remove all medical exemptions.
In California, as well, when opponents tried to put SB277 on the ballot, they misrepresented the law by trying to claim it mandated HPV vaccines, which was untrue.
It’s not clear whether the misrepresentations, at least in some of these cases, were out of intentional dishonesty or lack of understanding of the laws or bills in question. The results were the same – misrepresenting the law to others.
Following that tradition, in two posts addressing a newly proposed bill in Colorado, the anti-vaccine page Hear This Well misrepresented the new bill, sometimes just by using hyperbolic, misleading language and sometimes by making clearly incorrect statements.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
This article examines a recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling on parental rights and vaccines – they upheld a decision to vaccinate a child in the custody of the state over a mother’s objections. This post explains the decision, explains why the lone dissenting judge was wrong, and reminds the reader that this decision is consistent with the majority of states deciding the issue – for good reasons.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend certain vaccines. CDC cannot, and do not, mandate vaccines. However, states can and do require their residents to have received certain vaccines on the CDC recommended schedule in order, most notably, for children to enroll in school. All states, however, also offer exemptions from school immunization requirements, and some – like Maine – offer very easy-to-get ones.