AUGUSTA — Pointing to the international coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Janet Mills is urging voters to reject a citizens’ veto effort that seeks to overturn a new law that eliminates all non-medical exemptions to vaccinations for Maine schoolchildren.

In the text of her weekly radio address released Friday, Mills urged a “no” vote on Question 1, which will go to voters during the statewide presidential primary election in March.

“A little more than a month ago, the residents of a city in central China began getting terribly sick with a virus that no one had seen before,” Mills said. “As that virus spread, one of the first things that public health officials did was begin to work on a vaccine because vaccines save lives.”

On Thursday, the United Nation’s World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global emergency after it had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and the number of cases had spiked more than tenfold in a week.

Mills said a group campaigning to overturn Maine’s new vaccination law, which passed by a single vote in the state Senate in 2019, is using misleading tactics by suggesting “Big Pharma” is behind the law. Mills said the large pharmaceutical companies “hardly benefit at all from producing vaccines.”

“And in trying to target so-called Big Pharma, whom nobody really likes, their campaign is purposefully trying to conflate vaccinations with other issues like the opioid epidemic when these issues are distinctly different,” Mills said. “Don’t buy it.”

Cara Sacks, a spokeswoman for Yes on 1 to Reject Big Pharma, a political action committee that backs the ballot question to overturn the law, accused Mills of siding with big corporations instead of Maine people. Sacks cited the governor’s support for Central Maine Power Company’s controversial $1 billion plan to build an expanded transmission corridor through the state.

“Gov. Mills is losing the support of the Maine people,” Sacks said. “Mills lost big when she came out in favor of the CMP corridor, and now, again in favor of Big Pharma. By siding with the big corporations instead of the people, she is selling Maine out and sacrificing our fundamental right to make all of our own medical decisions.”

The Yes on 1 PAC’s fundraising has dwarfed that of the campaign supporting the vaccine law, raising $180,877 in donations in the fourth quarter of 2019. Added to its previous fundraising efforts, which began last summer, the Yes on 1 campaign has raised $315,752 in contributions and loans. The same reporting periods show Maine Families for Vaccines, which supports the law, has raised just $58,097.

Question 1 will ask voters: “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?”

Vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective at preventing infectious diseases, such as measles, chickenpox and pertussis.

A 1998 British study that claimed vaccines are linked to autism has been debunked and retracted.

Research shows that in areas where vaccine coverage declines, the incidence of such diseases increases. Refusal to vaccinate has been blamed for recent measles outbreaks in New York, California and Washington state.

Maine’s 2018 pertussis rate of 33.16 per 100,000 people was the highest in the nation, and eight times the national average, and researchers have said Maine’s low immunization rates are a contributing factor. Maine had 446 pertussis cases in 2018, and 302 cases through August of this year.

“Our state ranks seventh in the country for the rate of non-medical opt-outs among school-age children,” Mills said. “So last year alone, schools in Lincoln, York and Cumberland counties experienced dangerous whooping cough outbreaks.”

“I highly value personal choice,” she said, “but, as your 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.”

 

 

 

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