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Governor Mills: Join me in protecting our children

One summer, a five-year-old boy woke up slowly with a headache and surrounded by white coats and scared faces. As Dr. Tony Owens describes it, “I was only 5 and don’t remember anyone telling me I had polio, and not sure at that age it would have meant much to me anyway. As a parent and grandparent now myself, I can only imagine the terror that must have stricken my mom and dad.”

Tony Owens spent weeks in a children’s hospital and fortunately, he made a full recovery. By the next summer, a polio vaccine was developed that would eliminate the deadly disease worldwide, or nearly eliminate it.

Vaccines save lives, but only if people get vaccinated. Vaccines are one of the best tools we have to safeguard our children, protect our own health and the health of everyone around us, but a referendum on Maine’s ballot March 3rd would restore, what I consider, dangerous vaccine exemptions against the advice of every major medical provider in Maine.

I know you heard about this recently from me, but I wanted to talk to you about it again because I think it is so important.

Our state has had a vaccination opt-out rate that is about three times higher than the national average for kids starting kindergarten. Our state ranks seventh in the country for the rate of non-medical opt-outs among school age children. This is dangerous to kids who have immunity problems and health issues who can’t be vaccinated but who become ill because of someone else who is not vaccinated.

Last year alone, schools in Lincoln, York, and Cumberland counties experienced dangerous whooping cough outbreaks.

As Governor, I am charged with protecting the health and safety of all Maine people, and amidst these outbreaks it has become painfully clear that Maine laws have not adequately protected the health of Maine people.

During that last legislative session, I signed a bill to remove the non-medical exemptions from our vaccination laws so as to better protect the health and welfare of all Maine people, especially young children – something that four other states, Mississippi, New York, West Virginia and California – have all done recently.

The new law leaves medical exemptions up to medical professionals while ensuring that medically vulnerable children can attend school safely. All Maine children, regardless of insurance status, can receive vaccines at no cost through the Maine Immunization Program (ImmunizeME.org). Those are the facts.

Some people opposed to this new law though have succeeded in putting a referendum question on the ballot in the hopes of overturning the law.

I think that their campaign is masquerading itself as opposition to “Big Pharma,” but, really, pharmaceutical companies hardly benefit at all from producing these vaccines, as the newspapers recently reported. And in trying to target so-called Big Pharma, whom nobody likes, this campaign is purposefully trying to conflate vaccinations I think with other issues like the opioid epidemic when these issues are very different.

Don’t buy it.

As parents I think we have the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate our children, but none of us has the right to put the health of somebody else’s child at risk, especially those kids who are medically vulnerable and just want to go to school safely.

Yes on 1 puts the health of all of our children at risk. You don’t have to take my word for it though.

Nearly sixty major health care providers across Maine, including the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, have encouraged us to vote No on 1 because they know the measure is dangerous.

Children are especially vulnerable to deadly diseases like measles, mumps, polio, chickenpox, whooping cough–all these diseases are preventable by the immunity created in schools and public spaces when all people are vaccinated.

As the American Academy of Pediatrics says, ensuring that everyone who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated is important because it protects the most vulnerable members of our communities – infants, pregnant women and other people whose immune systems cannot combat certain harmful or deadly infections or who just aren’t eligible to receive certain vaccines medically.

Let’s listen to the doctors. Let’s not go back to a time when polio was so commonplace. Join me in protecting our children. I urge you to vote no on 1 on March 3.

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