As practicing physicians, we see a growing threat in Maine. A threat to young and old alike. A threat to our schools and day care centers. And a threat to Maine’s public health.
What is this threat? The alarming return of infectious diseases once thought to be relegated to the dustbin of history. And this threat has already begun to take its toll.
It has led to outbreaks of infectious diseases in our schools. Maine had the highest rate of whooping cough in the country in 2018, seven times the national average. Whooping cough outbreaks occurred in more than 13 Maine schools as well in three day care facilities in 2018. The Maine Immunization Coalition reports that chicken pox shut down a day care and appeared in two schools that year. Mumps outbreaks have hit the University of Southern Maine, and Bowdoin and Bates colleges.
Why are outbreaks of infectious — and sometimes deadly — diseases not seen in generations suddenly on our doorsteps? One can draw a straight line to our state’s nonmedical opt-out rates that have now dropped Maine below vaccination levels needed to protect us all and, in particular, our children.
But there is a solution.
Maine’s vaccination law is a reasonable, science-based approach to bringing these diseases to heel. It eliminates the practice of nonmedical exemptions while it expands medical exemptions for those who need them in two very clear ways: In addition to physicians, now nurse practitioners and physician assistants can write exemptions, and there is no longer a finite list of medical indications. That judgment is left to the best professional decision of these providers, exactly where medical decisions — in concert with patients and their families — should be.
Now, that vaccine law faces the threat of repeal at the ballot box on March 3. We are asking you to vote no on Question 1.
As health care providers, this is not an academic exercise for us. These diseases are serious and sometimes deadly. In our experience as physicians, we recall horrible nights trying to keep blue infants with pertussis breathing. We remember the lab work involving multiple needles, spinal taps, radiation from X-rays, hospitalization, antibiotics or even steroids when we evaluated and treated children with these diseases. One of us admits having actually forgotten about some of the diseases that used to strike fear in our hearts. Yet, in our collective years of training and practice, neither of us can recall ever seeing a case of serious vaccine injury.
Our opposition to Question 1 is shared by a coalition of more than 60 organizations in Maine. This coalition includes every Maine hospital — even the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital — health care systems such as InterMed, and major medical groups comprising pediatricians, emergency physicians, family practice doctors and anesthesiologists. Maine’s school nurses and nursing associations also oppose Question 1, as do Maine’s dentists, pharmacists and insurers. A coalition of churches and agencies on aging has also joined the fight.
Despite our diversity of missions, when it comes to dangerous diseases and our children, we agree: Maine’s sound legislative process created a reasonable and constitutional solution to rising nonmedical exemption rates in Maine. If Question 1 succeeds, nonmedical opt-outs will likely continue to climb, putting all of our children at risk.
With such a resounding and powerful voice urging Mainers to vote no on Question 1 on March 3, it’s no wonder the opposition had decided to use red herrings and disinformation to distract and devalue the central and critical issue on debate: Should voters repeal the new and updated vaccine standard? We urge you to see through these smokescreens and vote No on 1.
Our children’s health risk depends on what our neighbors do, and schools are one of our most cherished and shared communities. On March 3, please join us and our coalition of trusted voices to Vote No on 1. Protect Maine’s children.
Charles Pattavina is the former chief of emergency medicine at St. Joseph Hospital and a past president of the Maine Medical Association. Laura Blaisdell is vice president of the Maine American Academy of Pediatrics and co-founder of Maine Families for Vaccines.