Like so much else these days, Tuesday’s referendum on vaccines is dividing along partisan lines.

Republicans are much more likely to support Question 1 — which favors allowing religious and philosophical exemptions for mandatory vaccines — than Democrats.

Dueling buttons express support and opposition to Maine’s new law limiting exemptions to vaccinations. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

When the Sun Journal asked candidates seeking to represent Maine on Capitol Hill which way they plan to vote, every Republican who responded planned to vote yes while every Democrat who answered intends to vote no. Independents split on the question.

Ross LaJeunesse, a Biddeford Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, said he opposes the referendum because “I believe public policy needs to be based on science, from public health issues to the climate crisis.”

But Republican Jay Allen, a physician from New Harbor who is running for the U.S. House seat in Maine’s 1st Congressional District, said he favors Question 1 because the vaccine law it seeks to repeal “violates the rights of citizens.”

Allen said supporters of the law overstate its public health benefits and understate the risks of vaccines.

Most importantly, though, Allen said the law “violates the principle of informed consent” by overriding objections to vaccines. He said there are better ways to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.

Bre Kidman, a Saco lawyer who is running in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat, said the issue at stake “is whether religious or philosophical exemptions should be allowed to override the recommendation of the health care professional” chosen by parents.

“A lot of different people with a lot of different viewpoints become doctors and I think it’s important that people are able to find health care professionals they can trust,” Kidman said, so they can make decisions based on “scientific principles necessary to maintain both individual and public health.”

Republican Eric Brakey of Auburn, who hopes to win the 2nd Congressional District seat in a June 9 primary, said that “while vaccines play an important role in public health, informed consent is vital to ethics in medicine.”

“Eliminating the right to object to what is injected into your child’s body is a dangerous precedent on the road to authoritarian rule,” Brakey said. “Vaccination should be encouraged with persuasion and reason, not with force and coercion.”

Danielle VanHelsing of Sangerville, an independent running for the U.S. Senate, said she opposes repeal of the new vaccination law.

“The act of refusing to vaccinate is a public health crisis and threatens the lives of countless people of all ages,” VanHelsing said, “but particularly youth, elderly and immune-compromised individuals.”

“Religious delusion is not more important than thousands of actual, tangible lives,” VanHelsing said. “Belief-based decisions are irrelevant when safety is a heavy concern for the public as a whole.”

Republican congressional hopeful Adrienne Bennett of Bangor said she plans to vote yes on Question 1 because the former law on vaccinations “is doing an adequate job protecting our population.”

“The extreme powers granted to government in the new law sets a dangerous precedent in taking away parental rights and religious freedom,” Bennett said.

She said she is worried the new law “is just the first step in a broader agenda. If we let this law stand as passed, the list of vaccinations will grow and additional penalties will be imposed for missing a vaccine.”

Lisa Savage, an independent U.S. Senate contender from Solon who has long been active in the Maine Green Independent Party, said she supports mandatory vaccines “to protect for the common good, that is, the public’s health.”

She said there ought to be Medicare For All as well so that parents “have full access to primary care physicians who can advise them about risks to their family’s health.”

Linda Wooten of Auburn, an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, said she supports repeal of the law in order to preserve parental choice “to take care of their children the best way they feel fit.”

She said that many parents who pushed for the referendum have allowed their children to receive immunizations.

“That is not the issue,” Wooten said. “The issue with the mandate is that it takes away the parent’s right to take care of their children in the way that is best” for their own children.

“Parents feel this is a dangerous precedent that will grow into more mandates if not stopped,” Wooten said.

Tiffany Bond of Portland, another independent eyeing a Senate seat, said she struggled with the question but ultimately opposed it.

“We must be incredibly careful any time we allow the government to invade bodily autonomy,” she said. “The power to force someone to have a vaccine injection nudges us toward the government having authority to require or prohibit any medical procedure — it runs us into issues related to abortions, cancer care, forced medications and a range of other perilous areas to pull government into.”

“Any intrusions into forced medical procedures must be limited and warranted by a balanced, genuine public safety concern lacking other functional remedies,” she said.

Bond urged lawmakers in Augusta “to continue to investigate this issue to preserve both public safety and personal autonomy. I don’t think we’ve found quite the right balance yet,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st Congressional District Democrat, said she’s voting against Question 1 “because the science is clear: vaccines work, but in order for them to be effective, everyone needs to be vaccinated, especially kids.”

Republican Dale Crafts of Lisbon, who is running for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District, said he favors the referendum.

“For me, it is my belief in the foundation of family. As a parent, we are charged to exercise parental control over our children and exercise that right for what is best for them,” Crafts said. “I do not believe the government should interject themselves in that American principle of freedom.”

State House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Freeport Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, backed the vaccine bill in the Legislature and continues to support it, her campaign said. She plans to vote no on Question 1.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, declined to take sides. His office said he prefers to let the voters decide.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a 2nd Congressional District Democrat, also opted to steer clear of the debate.

Among the candidates who did not respond to repeated requests for their stance on Question 1 were Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Betsy Sweet of Hallowell and Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: