Politics & Other Mistakes: Is there a pill for that?

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I hate Big Pharma.

You hate Big Pharma.

Everybody hates Big Pharma because it’s so easy to hate.

Pharmaceutical executives revel in raising prices on lifesaving medicines for no other reason than that they can. They show no remorse when it’s discovered they lied about the addictive nature of the pills they pushed on people in pain. They display not a twinge of conscience when they dump unsafe medications on third-world countries.

If there’s an opportunity to screw over Big Pharma, count me in.

Unfortunately, Question 1 on Maine’s March ballot is not that opportunity. In spite of all those roadside signs from proponents of this measure calling on us to “Reject Big Pharma,” this People’s Veto has nothing to do with that malevolent entity.

Question 1 is about vaccines, specifically stopping a state law that says your kid has to have a few of them before attending public school, unless a doctor says a medical condition makes that inadvisable. This law, passed by the Legislature last year, removed an exemption that allowed parents to refuse to immunize their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

It’s unclear to me what God or Jean Paul Sartre might have against preventing communicable diseases, but suffice it to say, the parents who have opted out on these grounds – about 5.6 percent of kindergarteners in 2018 – are fanatic about their right to expose other people’s kids to all manner of diseases. During debate on the bill, Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, told the Portland Press Herald, the measure attacked “two bedrock foundations of America: religious freedom and parental rights.”

Strangely enough, Conley and the other anti-vaxxers only thought to mention Big Pharma as a reason to vote against the measure after they lost in the Legislature and discovered while collecting signatures to block the law’s implementation that a lot of people think vaccinating kids is a sensible thing to do. In the aftermath of that revelation, they needed a clever campaign gimmick, and dreamed up attacking the pharmaceutical creeps as their new marketing strategy.

In reality, the drug merchants have next to nothing to do with this issue. As the Bangor Daily News reported on Jan. 27, vaccines are a tiny segment of that industry – about 3 percent of total revenues. And the companies that make the shots – Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi Pasteur and GlaxoSmithKline – aren’t among the major players in the opioid scandal. Nor have drug companies donated any significant amount of money to the pro-vax campaign.

Big Pharma, it seems, is a Big Bogeyman.

So, let’s deal with something approaching facts. I can sympathize with parents who don’t want to be compelled to deal with screaming brats after their urchins have had needles inserted in their arms. In addition, my libertarian leanings make me automatically defiant whenever anybody in authority tells me I’ve got to do anything. But I try to temper that tendency with a modicum of common sense.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this state has the worst rate in the nation for cases of pertussis or whooping cough. Measles, considered all but wiped out a decade ago, has been reappearing with frightening regularity. Likewise, mumps and chicken pox. Children with compromised immune systems are increasingly at risk of infection from diseases that shouldn’t even be around anymore.

This ought to come as no surprise. In order to effectively prevent most childhood illnesses, the vaccination rate needs to be above 95 percent. Half the kindergartens in Maine are currently below that threshold, almost entirely because of the religious and philosophical exemptions.

Opposing mandatory immunizations isn’t just an unsound health policy. It’s also a selfish one. It means that when a kid who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons gets sick, the responsibility lies with the parents who refused to inoculate their children for reasons mostly based on myths, misinformation or malicious intent.

In that, these people bear an uncanny resemblance to the CEOs of Big Pharma.

Stick it to me by emailing [email protected].

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