ROCKPORT, Maine — Sen. Dave Miramant, D-Camden, was the only Democratic lawmaker to testify last month against a bill that would remove non-medical exemptions that allow children who have not been vaccinated to attend Maine schools.
His opposition to the bill, which won a party-line committee recommendation earlier this week, troubled some constituents. At a meeting on Friday, about a dozen of them, including several nurses and doctors, urged him to reconsider his stance.
“I think in this nice world that we live in in midcoast Maine, we can forget that there are some very bad things in this world, and some of them are diseases,” said Dr. Adeline Winkes, a Pen Bay Medical Center pediatrician. “I am very much an advocate for vaccines whenever they can safely be given […] I’m concerned based on what you testified that you’re coming at this without adequate information.”
In his testimony on the bill, LD 798, Miramant said he opposes removing religious or philosophical vaccination exemptions because it removes the freedom of a parent or guardian to choose vaccination schedules they feel are safest for their children. If passed, the bill would require those parents to vaccinate their children before they are enrolled in a public school.
“These kids will be in stores and playing with kids outside of school. All you’ve done is throw them out of school. This isn’t a good bill,” Miramant said. “By throwing these kids out of school, they’ll be seen as dirty, or something less.”
In Maine, vaccination rates for public school children have hovered near 95 percent since 2013. However, during the past school year, only six states had a higher vaccine opt-out rate than Maine, and the share of kindergartners vaccinated for measles dropped in this school year for the third straight year with the share of students citing nonmedical exemptions rising from 5 percent to 5.6 percent.
At Friday’s meeting, Miramant raised concerns about the vaccination schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control, which he argues is heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies. He also questioned the effectiveness of vaccines and the potential for negative side effects on children.
However, many of the medical professionals at the meeting pushed back against Miramant’s claims, saying they’ve been debunked by science-based research.
“There is a lot of stuff out there in the world. It doesn’t take much to find it on Google and be like ‘Oh my God, what’s happening here,” said Dr. Bill Stephenson, a pediatrician. “There is actually a lot of science behind [vaccines].”
All of the constituents who attended Friday’s meeting support the bill and took offense to Miramant’s accusation that the bill would kick children out of school.
“This isn’t true. Don’t use that language. No one wants to kick kids out of school. We would like to keep preventable diseases out of our schools and away from our children. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Chris Rheault said.
Mirimant said the majority of the feedback he has received on LD 798 supports his stance against the bill. But after the bill passed out of committee with an expanded definition of a medical exemption, he said he is “still mulling it over.”