On March 3, Maine voters will be asked whether to repeal a law that eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions respecting vaccinations required for school attendance.

Despite innumerable studies that show the societal health benefits of a childhood vaccination program, the roadside signs of the anti-vaccination campaign suggest that we should repeal the law because to do so will “Reject Big Pharma.” This slogan indicates that while the anti-vaccination movement may have abandoned the discredited theory linking vaccines to autism, this notion has been replaced with the equally unfounded theory that drug companies unfairly profit from childhood vaccination programs.

The reality is that the manufacture and sale of vaccines in general remain largely unprofitable for drug companies (amounting to only 2 percent to 3 percent of company profits, according to a 2015 Atlantic Monthly report), despite recent increases in demand for vaccines from developing countries and the introduction of several higher-value products, such as the hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus vaccines. But these latter are not the school-related vaccines that are the focus of the Maine law. Thus, opting out of taking school-related vaccines would in no way damage the bottom-line profits of the major drug companies.

What is really at issue here is a classic conflict between a well-documented public good (i.e., comprehensive childhood vaccinations) and an individual’s ability to act on a philosophical or religious belief (i.e., that such vaccinations either cause some malady or are part of a drug company conspiracy), even if that belief has no basis in fact.

James Flannery


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