It is the beginning of a new school year in the early 1960s. Third graders are taking sugar cubes with a new polio vaccine, the Sabin vaccine, developed soon after the initial vaccine that prevented dreaded polio. The older siblings of those youngsters could easily have been vulnerable to the disease.
We are now 60 years and two generations beyond that classroom, and its stunning medical advance of the vaccines for polio. And we have seemingly forgotten the importance of those discoveries in the fight against childhood diseases.
There is a new fight over vaccine practices in Maine that will be decided in a referendum vote on Tuesday, March 3. Voters will be asked if they want to repeal the recently enacted law that tightened the requirements for vaccines, removing religious and philosophical exemptions for the required vaccines for those attending K-12 schools, as well as public universities, and workers at health-care facilities. A “yes” vote would repeal the law, and retain the wider exemptions. A “no” vote backs the law that tightened the vaccine requirements.
This debate ignited a firestorm in the last session of the Legislature, with crowded hearings and a lengthy outcry from those who felt their rights to control their kids’ vaccinations were unduly compromised.
The law, LD 798, passed by a slim margin.
Opponents of the new law, who urge a “yes” vote, have resorted to a misleading campaign targeting pharmaceutical companies. Their blue signs urge voters to “Reject Big Pharma.” This is a misleading strategy because the real issue is about vaccination protection.
We urge voters to reject this attack and to vote “no” on the referendum.
Maine’s vaccine rates have fallen in recent years, and rates of serious childhood illnesses like whooping cough have correspondingly risen. There is ample evidence that widespread compliance with vaccines protects the public health, and especially that of children with compromised immune systems who are endangered by the diseases.
The campaign to repeal the new law is riding a current of libertarian and anti-pharmaceutical company sentiment that is misplaced, yet could easily be successful. But freedom isn’t absolute, especially when it affects the welfare of the majority. You can’t drive drunk or stoned or 100 miles an hour. We all have to make accommodations for the welfare of others.
Requiring the vaccination of children, without religious or philosophical exemptions, is common-sense public policy.