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Maine issue: the Orient’s guide to the 2020 ballot measure

February 28, 2020

Question 1: Should Maine allow religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring vaccinations for students?

Question 1—the only question on the Maine ballot next week—will ask voters whether they want to keep or repeal a law passed last year that would eliminate “religious and philosophical exemptions” to vaccination requirements. If voters reject the referendum, the law would go into effect in September 2021.

The ballot question asks: “Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?”

A “yes” vote is in favor of repealing the new law and reinstating religious and philosophical exemptions to required vaccinations. A “no” vote is in favor of upholding the law, requiring vaccinations for all students attending public or private schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and healthcare care facilities, with the exception of a medical exemption.

Who supports Question 1?

Supporters of the “people’s veto” argue that the law infringes on religious freedom and personal liberties.

Some supporters claim that vaccines could pose potentially dangerous health risks—a claim that has been refuted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has said that vaccines are highly safe and the public health benefits of vaccinations outweigh any potential risks.

The group “Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma” is leading the “yes” campaign. They have framed the referendum as a rejection of “big pharma” after major pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and Pfizer donated to the “no” campaign.

Who opposes Question 1?

Opponents of the referendum, including doctors and medical professionals, argue that vaccines are critical in preventing the spread of disease.

The bill was prompted by a recent increase in Maine’s rate of non-medical vaccine opt-outs, which is already one of the highest in the country, and rising cases of preventable diseases. Public health officials say high opt-out rates put vulnerable individuals, such as those with weakened immune systems from illness or treatment and infants too young to be vaccinated, at high risk of contracting deadly diseases.

“Maine Families for Vaccines” has led the coalition against the referendum, which is made up of 55 health care and nonprofit organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and Maine Medical Association. Maine governor Janet Mills has also advocated for the “no” position after signing the bill into law last year.


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