As Mainers head to the polls on Super Tuesday for the presidential main, in addition they will determine one other concern: vaccine necessities. A statewide referendum asks if voters need to overturn a brand new regulation that eliminates non secular and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccines.
Molly Frost of Newcastle desires the brand new regulation to remain. Her 11-year-old son, Asa, has a compromised immune system. He was identified with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 5. The most cancers has gone out and in of remission, Frost mentioned, relapsing thrice. Asa’s therapy has included a number of rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and, most just lately, a stem cell transplant.
“He at this point has no immunity against any of the things he was vaccinated for in the past and could get very sick from those diseases were he to catch them,” she mentioned.
That worries Frost, particularly as a result of her household lives in a coastal county the place vaccine exemption charges are no less than 9% — among the many state’s highest charges. She was glad when the Maine legislature passed the law final yr supposed to guard children like her son. It goals to spice up immunization charges of youngsters coming into college by eliminating nonmedical exemptions. It’s not in impact but, but when opponents have their means Tuesday, it by no means will probably be.
Asa Frost heads out the door to catch the varsity bus.
“It’s a huge infringement on personal freedoms,” mentioned Cara Sacks, co-chair of the group that put the repeal on the ballot. “On medical freedom in particular.”
The repeal group consists of mother and father like Angie Kenney who need to maintain the philosophical exemption for vaccines. Kenney has used the philosophical exemption to refuse immunizations for her children — ever since her older daughter had an antagonistic response after receiving the chickenpox vaccine at 18 months outdated.
“She could not crawl,” Kenney mentioned. “She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t even feed herself. And this went on for almost a year.”
Her daughter was identified with ataxia, a mind damage listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a uncommon antagonistic occasion after chickenpox vaccination. Kenney mentioned she acquired a fee from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Her daughter has recovered and is now an adolescent. But Kenney additionally has a Four-year-old and doesn’t suppose the state ought to power her to get both lady vaccinated: “I am not sacrificing my child for the greater good of the community.”
Across Maine, although, physicians and well being organizations say the brand new regulation is required to guard public well being as a result of an increasing number of mother and father are utilizing exemptions.
More than 5% of kindergartners in Maine now have nonmedical exemptions, greater than double the nationwide common. That has pushed vaccination charges for a lot of illnesses under 95% — the vital threshold to attain herd immunity and keep away from spreading a illness to children with compromised immune methods, like Asa Frost. Pediatrician Dr. Laura Blaisdell mentioned she has each day conversations with mother and father about vaccines however has felt helpless as she’s witnessed immunization charges drop.
“We have gotten to a point where there are no other solutions,” Blaisdell mentioned.
Maine has the second-highest price of pertussis within the nation. And Blaisdell mentioned she worries that outbreaks of measles in different states may simply arrive via the hundreds of thousands of vacationers who go to every summer time.
“That sort of traffic is exactly the sort of traffic that diseases like measles would just love,” she mentioned.
More than $1 million has been spent on the referendum battle. The campaign to preserve Maine’s new law acquired its preliminary help largely from docs, nurses and well being organizations. In the newest marketing campaign filings, the group bought a $500,000 increase from pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer and Merck & Co. The commerce group Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which represents the biotech business, additionally contributed $98,000.
The marketing campaign to repeal the regulation, Yes on 1 for Maine, adopted “Reject Big Pharma” as its main slogan. Much of the early help got here from particular person donations and chiropractors. More just lately, the Organic Consumers Association contributed $50,000. The Minnesota-based group has been criticized for stoking vaccine fears and inflicting a measles outbreak within the state’s Somali group three years in the past.
The backlash that has erupted over Maine’s new regulation doesn’t shock Alison Buttenheim, an assistant professor of well being coverage on the University of Pennsylvania who research vaccine hesitancy and state exemptions. She mentioned when states get rid of complete classes of exemptions, some folks understand that as parental rights being sacrificed for public well being.
“And you sort of wonder, could Maine have taken a different policy step? Maybe making those exemptions harder to get and accomplish the same goal of coverage and disease protection without having to go through a big repeal effort.”
If the brand new regulation is preserved, Maine would be a part of four other states that don’t permit any nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations: California, New York, Mississippi and West Virginia.
This story is a part of NPR’s reporting partnership with Maine Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.