Proposal could regulate immunization exemptions in Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A proposed bill in Maine would make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for all sorts of diseases. This bill coincides with a massive measles outbreak that started in DisneyLand and that has made its way across the country.

The lawmakers behind the bill said they introduced the bill because of the rising number of children entering kindergarten without their vaccines. More than a decade ago, fewer than three percent of kids entering kindergarten weren't immunized that; number has jumped to more than five percent. This statistic puts Maine at the fifth highest percentage of non-vaccinated schoolchildren in the country.

"Everybody wants to do the right thing for their own child and they are doing it out of an honest concern, but that they don't always get all of the right information," said Representative Linda Sanborn (D) of Gorham, a sponsor of one of the bills.

Representative Sanborn, a retired physician, has proposed a bill which she said will ensure parents are educated before making a decision. As it stands now, parents who do not want their kids vaccinated for a philosophical reason only need to sign a waiver for the school. Sanborn's bill would require those parents to first meet with a doctor to go over the risks before being allowed to opt out of immunizations. Among them: Measles, mumps and whooping cough.

"This bill does not take away the philosophical exemption and it still gives parents the right to choose. But this is an attempt to make sure they have all of the information that they need to make an informed decision," said Sanborn.

The Maine Coalition for Vaccine Choice disagrees with Sanborn's bill and any other that would add requirements for parents when it comes to vaccinating their kids.

"When you have these kinds of mandated conversations with parents it not only doesn't encourage them to vaccinate, it alienates them and they don't want to vaccinate at all," said Director Ginger Taylor.

According to Taylor, her group is not "anti-vaccine," but is fighting for proper research and for the possible risks being made available to parents and doctors.

"Vaccination is a very personal medical choice. It brings with it a lot of risk, vaccines can be safe for many people, but in some children it can cause disability, death, coma, seizures, and very serious disorders," said Taylor.

According to Rep. Sanborn, parents meeting with their medical provider allows them to make educated choices. Sanborn, a doctor, pointed to the relationships she had with her former patients.

"I think that they were more willing to listen and hear what I said and vice-versa. I was very careful to listen to all of their concerns and I think that plays a really big role in this discussion," she said.

Another bill before lawmakers would simply make it mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children with no option to opt out.

According to Taylor, the Maine Coalition for Vaccine Choice plans to push its own bill to create a "Vaccine Safety Office" in Maine to educate parents. It would also serve as a watchdog organization to make sure a parent's right to choose is protected.


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