In 1999, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled a list of the “Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century” to highlight the various ways public health has extended the average life span of Americans by 25 years between 1900 and 1999.

One of the 10 successes was immunizations. For example, in 1920, over 460,000 Americans contracted measles and over 7,500 died. Since the availability of the measles vaccine in 1963, new cases have declined dramatically, and the United States eliminated measles in 2000.

Because of our success in reducing new measles cases, many parents and primary care providers have likely never seen anyone suffer from the disease. As a result, there may be some complacency about its severity.

There is no cure for measles once someone is infected, and it can leave one vulnerable to other illnesses like pneumonia.

This is a concern from a public health perspective because recent trends in declining vaccination rates have helped measles re-emerge in this country. During the 2013-14 school year, Maine had the fifth highest proportion in the nation of parents opting out of vaccinating their children based on a religious or philosophical exemption.

Children need a strong foundation early on to set themselves up for a healthy life. Immunizations are just one of several building blocks to fortify their developing minds and bodies, along with other public health interventions such as fluoridated water, tobacco-free environments, breastfeeding-friendly policies and environments and access to healthy foods and physical activity.

This is why any proposed legislation that increases childhood vaccination rates should be supported. L.D. 606 would eliminate the philosophical exemption that makes Maine one of just 18 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children based on personal reasons.

The philosophical exemption is vague, potentially broad and lacking in scientific evidence. Therefore, its removal would make it more difficult to opt out.

Another take on the issue can be found in L.D. 471. This bill would require parents to discuss vaccine safety with a medical provider before claiming a philosophical exemption. The goal is that by doing so, parents would see the evidence and choose to vaccinate.

Whichever route is taken, we know that there are ways in which we can discuss this issue in a civil, scientifically based manner.

However, establishing a vaccine safety office in Maine – as proposed in L.D. 1076 – would be redundant, as one already exists at the federal level. This creates an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.

Mainers rely on each other, whether it’s shoveling out a neighbor’s driveway after a blizzard or carpooling each other’s kids to soccer practice.

This sentiment also keeps our day cares and classrooms safe from vaccine-preventable diseases through the concept of “herd immunity.” This means that if enough people in a population get immunized, then the spread of the disease is limited because the virus has fewer possible people to infect.

Many viruses are highly contagious, and some people are unable to receive certain vaccines. These people include infants, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems because of illnesses like cancer and AIDS.

If a disease is given more opportunities to spread, those who can’t get vaccinated will be more likely to be infected and more likely to have severe health complications because of their underlying health conditions.

Primary care providers, school nurses, school-based health centers and public clinics are where the public can get vaccinated against measles and other diseases, as well as learn more about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. They are grounded in evidence-based practices and science. Please seek out a health professional if you have any questions.

Considering the many public health successes achieved during the last century, for immunizations to be selected among the top 10 speaks to their tremendous benefit to our society.

Let’s not regress to a time when infectious diseases accounted for the majority of deaths in the United States. To do so would ignore the legacy of those who worked tirelessly to develop vaccines, and more importantly, to those who died from vaccine-preventable diseases who never had the chance to be immunized.