Why you should reject the campaign against vaccines

On March 3, you can cast a vote for better health and a healthier civic life by voting No on Question 1, a People’s Veto that would overturn a new Maine law on vaccinations. 

The health consequences of fewer immunizations are clear. 

Before the polio vaccine, parents were afraid of their children ending up in an iron lung or with disabilities. To thwart transmission, and because polio rates increased in the summer, beaches and swimming pools were closed. Parents were scared to send their kids to bowling alleys and movie theaters. 

The measles vaccine became available in 1963. Before then, tens of thousands of Americans each year were hospitalized due to measles and measles caused swelling of the brain in a thousand people each year. I remember talking to my parents about their fear for someone in our family who got measles. This child spent almost a month in bed and doctors were worried she would have permanent brain damage. 

Statistics show that with the development of vaccines, the public is much safer now. Cases of mumps have dropped 99%. And lest one think mumps is no big deal, it was “one of the major causes of deafness in children” before there was a vaccine. 

And vaccines don’t just help the people getting them but also people with weakened immune systems. You probably know someone like that. It may be someone who’s getting treated for cancer, or someone who has a genetic disease that suppresses their immune system, or perhaps someone who had a transplant. And even if you aren’t close to anyone like this now and aren’t concerned with public health, this could be you or a friend or family member sometime. 

Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, speaks at a Feb. 4 news conference with doctors opposed to Question 1, the referendum on vaccinations. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The development of vaccines was a massive achievement for humanity but, with rates of vaccination decreasing, that achievement is slipping away.

Rates of whooping cough (pertussis) are rising and Maine had the highest rate in the country in 2018. Whooping cough is dangerous. It killed 9,000 a year in the United States before there was a vaccine for it. Over 40% of infants with reported cases of whooping cough nationally that year were hospitalized and infants are the group most likely to die from pertussis.

When fewer people get immunized, everyone is less safe. Yet over 40 Maine elementary schools had rates of vaccination below 85% in the 2018-2019 school year.

Besides voting “no” for better health, Mainers should reject the misleading campaign run by Question 1 proponents.

Signature gatherers for Question 1 repeatedly lied about the law that would be overturned. I experienced this myself.

One signature gatherer told me that the new law, which would be overturned by a “yes” vote, removed all exemptions to immunization. The reality is that the law retained medical exemptions, which can be given by doctors and other health professionals. It removed the philosophical and religious exemptions, which research has shown to be related to higher rates of diseases prevented by immunization. When I told the signature gatherer his claim was incorrect, he repeated it, falsely telling me the petition stated the medical exemption had been removed and the referendum would restore it. 

Another day, a different signature gatherer told me the very same no medical exemption lie and, when challenged, falsely claimed there was a medical exemption for some things but not for chicken pox. And when I pointed at the words on the petition that said otherwise, she lied again, falsely claiming the petition had that information “on the back.”

Supporters of Question 1 also mislead the public by suggesting that the law they would overturn exists because it is supported by pharmaceutical companies. In reality, many Mainers and the Maine Medical Association, Maine Public Health Association and many more medical groups backed increasing immunizations and oppose Question 1. 

To demonstrate that Maine will not stand for such awful campaign tactics and to protect our health, Mainers should reject Question 1.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.