Another Viewpoint: Too much at stake to vote no on Question 1

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Al Diamon’s Feb. 5 column (“Politics & Other Mistakes: Is there a pill for that?”) betrays several common misconceptions about LD 798 and the upcoming March 3 referendum.

First, Question 1 is not about “stopping a state law that says your kid has to have a few (shots) before attending public school.” Maine’s vaccine mandates will remain in place regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

LD 798 would remove religious and philosophical “exemption rights” – the right to decline or delay a mandated vaccine that is objectionable for personal or religious reasons. And the law would remove exemption rights not just for public school kids, but for all age groups seeking access to any educational settings in the state of Maine: public, private, parochial, colleges and universities, online and trade schools. The law also affects day-care employees and health-care workers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that less than 1 percent of the population is unvaccinated, which means that most people who utilize exemption rights are simply choosing to vaccinate on their own schedule. Under LD 798, this would no longer be an option.

Further, Maine citizens do not get to vote on proposed additions to the mandates list, and the loss of exemption rights automatically applies to any additional requirements. Why is this a concern? Because the mandates list keeps growing.

In fact, we’re seeing a nationwide onslaught of bills like LD 798 that aim to remove individual and parental rights. New York, one of the two states that recently made the mistake of eliminating personal exemption rights, will likely become the fifth state to require HPV vaccination in middle school starting in 2021. Another New York bill under consideration will “codify permission for minors to receive the HPV vaccine without parental permission.”

The idea that there is no pharmaceutical profit motive in question here is, quite frankly, absurd. The World Health Organization says that the vaccine market – valued at $5 billion in 2000 – is projected to rise to $100 billion by 2025, with vaccines “becoming an engine for the pharmaceutical industry.”

Diamon’s argument that drug companies haven’t “donated any significant amount of money to the pro-vax campaign” was printed a mere five days before the pharmaceutical industry dumped almost half a million dollars into television ads targeting our exemption rights.

Vaccines, manufactured and sold by drug companies, carry risks ranging from swelling at the injection site, fever, and rash, to seizures, encephalopathy, and death. But unlike other pharmaceutical products, manufacturers bear no liability for vaccine injuries. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a fund, paid for by taxpayers, to compensate petitioners who can convince a special no-fault vaccine court that vaccination played a role in an injury, disability, or death. To date, the NVICP has paid out approximately $4 billion.

Under LD 798, a medical exemption would be required for a person missing even one dose of a required vaccine to access education and some jobs. In our current political climate, medical exemptions are virtually impossible to obtain, no matter the severity of medical contraindications. Doctors report fear of risking their medical license. Worse, “lack of clinician awareness” has been identified in a report by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care as the main reason that fewer than 1 percent of vaccine-adverse events are ever reported, indicating that doctors are surprisingly unqualified to assess for the presence or risk of such events.

Imagine that your child has a seizure reaction to a vaccine. Do you want to rely on your doctor – usually financially incentivized to promote full compliance – to decide whether or when your child should continue to receive that vaccine or others? Do you want your child’s ability to access any education in the state to be contingent on that doctor’s decision and willingness to write a medical exemption? Or do you think you are the best person to make that decision?

In a 2019 study undertaken to determine states that vaccinate the most, Maine ranked 14th. Neither the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the sponsors of LD 798 can point to any evidence that a single unvaccinated or selectively vaccinated child has ever spread a vaccine-targeted disease to another child. Pertussis outbreaks in Maine are said to necessitate this law, although – due to the rapidly declining efficacy of the vaccine – 80 percent of the whooping cough cases in Maine have occurred in those fully vaccinated for the disease. 

In reality, all citizens will lose exemption rights in the event of a public health emergency. And that’s just it: we have no public health emergency that would be remedied by stripping Mainers of our rights on an open-ended vaccine mandates list. What we do have in Maine is an effective vaccination program with high compliance that honors the ethical principle of informed consent. Only if you are truly orthodox in your views about the authority of the medical establishment should you vote no on Question 1.

If you feel that authority over medical decisions should ultimately rest with the patient or parent, vote yes on 1.

Melissa Roberts lives in Freeport and is the owner of Stone Coast Botanicals in Brunswick.