Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, speaks at a news conference with doctors opposed to Question 1, the religious and philosophical exemptions referendum on vaccinations, at the State House in Augusta on Tuesday. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

At this time in our country when the lines between what is true and what is false, what we can trust and what is designed to deceive, are muddied, the search for accurate information is all the more imperative. While it certainly is not necessary to be informed when we arrive at our opinions, it assuredly is a “consummation devoutly to be wish’d,” as Hamlet famously said. And I do believe most people want their opinions based on fact and unbiased information.

So it was in this vein that I sought an explanation of signs I saw all over town saying “Yes on 1 — Reject Big Pharma.” I did not know what the issue at stake was, but I do know that the power large pharmaceutical companies hold is one I find very troubling and would like to see changed.

It ends up, however, that the issue really has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of drugs, nor “big pharma,” but rather with the public health concern of the need for vaccinations. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, needless to say this is an issue about which I care very deeply.

The misinformation abounding on this issue is astounding. It is truly perplexing that anyone still believes that vaccinations can cause autism, although this has been debunked, disproven and renounced. Why would any parent think that pediatric health care providers all over the world would recommend anything that might deliberately put children at risk? Why would any human being devote their career to providing for the health and wellbeing of children, yet stand behind something that did not work to promote these outcomes?

Vaccines are not only safe, but they save lives. Throughout history, before we immunized children, they died of the diseases we can now prevent. And if they didn’t die, they might live with the paralysis of polio, for example, living in a brace or even, as two cousins of mine, in wheelchairs since they were in elementary school, as they were unfortunate enough to contract the polio virus before the vaccine was available.

I have seen babies get pertussis — whooping cough — be hospitalized and given oxygen in order to protect their developing brains from the permanent damage resulting from the lack of oxygen. I wish I could say all of them recovered without any brain compromise. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

And this says nothing about the cost of non-immunized children to the population at large. There are children who are medically compromised and who, due to their conditions, cannot be immunized. If “herd immunity,” the state in which enough of the population is immunized against a disease so that it is not freely prevalent in the community, does not exist, these children are at constant risk of preventable diseases from which they may die. Do we as a society and as individuals not have to think about the wellbeing of all of our children and the welfare of our community at large?

Misrepresenting the issue of a requirement for children to be protected from dreaded diseases as support for “big pharma” is nothing short of an obvious and deliberate attempt to obfuscate the issue. This is simply a public health issue and I urge everyone to vote ”No” on Question 1.

Ellen Dohmen of Bar Harbor is a pediatric nurse practitioner.