The director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention has backtracked on comments he made supporting legislation that would make it harder for parents to opt out of having their children get vaccinations.

A day after saying he was in favor such legislation, CDC Director Kenneth Albert said Wednesday that a reporter “leapt to the conclusion” that he supports a bill that would have made it harder for parents to get exemptions from vaccination requirements when their children enroll in school.

Albert was interviewed about the bill Tuesday by the Portland Press Herald, immediately after he and the state’s chief health officer talked about vaccine law with students at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. In the interview, Albert specifically praised the “informed consent” bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, and said the Legislature and the administration of Gov. Paul LePage should consider the bill if it is revived. The measure, which passed in the Legislature but was vetoed by LePage in June, would have required a signature by a medical professional before parents could get a vaccination exemption for a child on philosophic grounds.

“It’s a reasonable bill. The Legislature should consider it and the administration should consider it as well,” Albert said Tuesday.

BILL PROVISIONS ‘HEAVY-HANDED’

But in a letter to the editor sent Wednesday to the Press Herald, Albert wrote that he was speaking more generally of informing parents about vaccines, and that he in fact does not support Sanborn’s bill.

“These additional steps create a heavy-handed and unnecessary burden for providers, parents and schools and may have the unintended consequence of strengthening the opposition of parents who do not support vaccination,” he wrote.

Albert said in the letter that “any legislation that encourages dialogue between providers and parents that reinforces the importance of vaccines and the low risk associated with them, and positions the parent to make an informed decision, is worthy of consideration.”

He didn’t specify what such legislation would look like.

Some parents opt out of vaccines for their children because they mistakenly believe there’s a link to autism or that vaccines are otherwise dangerous. Vaccines have been proven to be overwhelmingly safe and effective at preventing disease, and a study linking vaccines to autism was debunked and retracted.

Parents seeking a philosophic exemption can sign a form at school to forgo vaccines. Maine has one of the highest parental opt-out rates in the nation, putting the state at higher risk for infectious diseases such as measles, chicken pox, mumps and pertussis.

DIRECTOR DECLINES INTERVIEW

Albert did not return a message Wednesday seeking clarification of his position. John Martins, spokesman for the CDC, responded to a message with a statement that Albert did not want to be interviewed.

Sanborn’s informed consent bill overwhelmingly passed the Legislature but was vetoed by LePage on June 30. The House of Representatives came five votes short of overriding the veto. While LePage praised the effectiveness of vaccines, the governor wrote in his veto message that ultimately, the bill infringed upon parental rights.

Deborah Deatrick, senior vice president of community health at MaineHealth, said Wednesday that when she first heard Albert’s comments on the bill, her impression was that he was “thoughtful and articulate” on the topic. But Deatrick said she’s not surprised at his reversal and wonders if the LePage administration pressured him to backpedal, because his position contradicted the governor’s stance.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, told the Press Herald that Albert was not encouraged by the administration to write a letter after his comments contradicting the governor were publicized.

“It is my understanding that your first article was inaccurate so clarification was needed to ensure what Mr. Albert said is reported accurately,” Bennett wrote.