It was 3 a.m. when the call came in. Four-year-old Carol Ann could be heard in the background with the telltale high-pitched wheezing sound of Hemophilus influenzae epiglottitis, a swelling at the base of the tongue that can close off the breathing tube, a not-too-uncommon happening in those years.

She had only minutes to make it to the emergency room, where an external breathing tube could be placed to bypass the swelling and save her life. Fortunately, she arrived in time. Also fortunately, that was the last time I saw a case of Hemophilus epiglottitis, thanks to a vaccine that was developed shortly thereafter.

As a pediatrician in the 1960s I watched many serious infectious diseases be eradicated through the development of vaccines. Pediatrics was changed from an inpatient to a mostly outpatient specialty. Many hospitals closed their pediatric floors for lack of patients to fill beds.

We now face an impending crisis. To protect the population from these vaccine-preventable diseases, 95 percent of people need to be vaccinated, and Maine is falling behind at a 5.6 percent opt-out rate. Some communities are even at a 15 percent opt-out rate.

This year the Legislature passed a law making medical exemptions the only valid opt-out permitted for school attendance and health care employment. A people’s veto challenge is on the ballot in March to negate this law. If passed, preventable illnesses may tragically reappear, and only then will we once again look to vaccines as the miracles they truly are.

Vote “no” on 1.

Norma Dreyfus, M.D.

Arrowsic

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