Portland Community Health Center medical assistant Shelby Heggeman (right) prepares a vaccination in March 2015. The center partnered with the University of New England to hold a free measles, mumps and rubella vaccine clinic at the its Park Avenue location.

Hospital officials in Ellsworth have scheduled a community forum to provide the public with information about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing the spread of disease.

Dr. Carolyn Stwertka, a pediatrician at the hospital, said Friday that officials at the health care facility decided to schedule the forum after fielding many inquiries from patients in the wake of news stories about vaccine requirements in Maine — as lawmakers move toward approving a bill that would eliminate philosophical and religious exemptions to school vaccine requirements — and a recent nationwide surge in measles cases.

“We have been getting a lot of questions,” Stwertka said. “To my knowledge, this is the first community forum we’ve done on vaccines.”

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The physician said Northern Light Health officials are concerned about vaccination rates at area schools, many of which they believe are too low. Children who are not vaccinated currently could be at risk for contracting measles or other communicable diseases that are increasing in frequency.

“Pertussis (also known as whooping cough) is another [illness] we’ve been seeing in the area,” Stwertka said. “Some of our schools are as low as 50 percent in their vaccination rates. That is something we are worried about.”

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The forum will be held in the Health Center Classroom at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital on Union Street in Ellsworth at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 21. Staff from the hospital’s pediatrics care offices will offer free vaccines to children under the age of 18 who are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We’re going to be waiving the administration fee” for providing the vaccines, Stwertka said.

Attendees need to register beforehand and can do so by calling Northern Light Pediatrics in Ellsworth at 664-7745. A light dinner will be provided at the forum, according to hospital officials.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....