Opponents and supporters of Maine’s new vaccine law dueled during a televised debate Monday night, with those in favor of the law that eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions citing science and those opposing it saying it infringes on parental rights.

The debate on WGME-TV pitted Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a pediatrician from Yarmouth, and Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, who both spoke on behalf of Maine Families for Vaccines, against Cara Sacks and Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta, who advocated on behalf of the “Yes on 1” campaign, the group that is seeking to repeal the law. Sacks serves as manager of the “Yes on 1 to Reject Big Pharma” campaign.

News anchor Jennifer Long and Gregg Lagerquist moderated the debate, which was televised for 30 minutes before moving into a 15-minute discussion on WGME’s Facebook page.

Question 1, which is on the March 3 ballot, asks voters whether they want to reject the new law, which would eliminate the option of claiming a religious or philosophical exemption to vaccinations against certain communicable diseases for students who attend school in Maine. The law would cover students who attend public or private elementary and secondary schools, and any post-secondary school in the state, including colleges and universities. It also would affect employees of nursery schools and health care facilities.

The new law does allow for medical exemptions, provided the individual can provide a written statement from a physician or other medical professional.

Blaisdell said the new law is supported by nearly every hospital, doctor and nurse in Maine, including the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, adding that such widespread support from the medical community that cares for sick children is “an inconvenient truth” for those who want to repeal the measure.

Blaisdell argued that the new law, which is slated to take effect Sept. 21, 2021, will protect vulnerable children – those with compromised immune systems – from contracting contagious diseases, adding, “Can you imagine a life where there were no vaccines? We didn’t pick this fight. It was brought to us by the opposition.”

Sacks attacked the new law as being legislative overreach, saying “this is absolutely a vaccine mandate.” Sacks said she has heard from hundreds of families whose medical providers are reluctant or unwilling to grant an exemption to their child.

Blaisdell took issue with Sacks’ statement calling it “disingenuous and insulting to Maine voters.” Blaisdell said she and other medical providers are trained to grant a medical exemption if it is deemed necessary to protect their patient’s health.

Students or their parents would need to provide proof of immunization or proof of immunity for diphtheria, chickenpox, measles, mumps and pertussis, to name a few, according to a document posted on the Secretary of State’s website by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

Before the law was enacted, immunization exemptions were allowed for students who held “a sincere religious belief” or who objected on the grounds of “sincerely held religious or philosophical belief.”

Fecteau warned that the new law goes too far and is unnecessary, placing severe restrictions on personal liberties.

“If you vote yes on 1, you will continue to live in a state where 95 percent are vaccinated,” said Fecteau, a public school teacher. “If you don’t vote yes on 1, your kids will be kicked out of their schools.”

Blaisdell stated that 81 children in Samoa died from measles. There was one diagnosed case of measles in Maine last year.

“These are dangerous diseases,” Blaisdell said. “There is just too much at stake to repeal this law.”

Fecteau accused her of “fear mongering” and insisted that 95 percent of children are vaccinated, the rate at which herd immunity keeps communicable diseases from spreading.

Carson said the Legislature voted to change the law because, “Our greatest responsibility is to protect those who are vulnerable, our young kids.”

Fecteau said Yes on 1 is not anti-vaccine, but believes that parents should have the right to make that decision.

In a letter filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, Blaisdell states, “This vote (March 3) will be the first of its kind in the United States and the results will set the standard for children’s safety across the country.”

This story has been updated at 9:30 on Feb. 25 to correct Jennifer Long’s name.

 


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