Forecaster Forum: Maine must outlaw most vaccination opt-outs

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I am a senior at Falmouth High School who is immunosuppressed. Due to medications I must take for arthritis, my immune system is weaker than the average person’s.

I want to express my support for legislation that makes immunization a condition of school entry, in response to Maine’s appallingly low vaccination compliance. This legislation has the potential to save lives and protect people throughout the state, and thus is something to which our state needs to lend serious thought.

Vaccination rates in Maine are among the worst in the country (seventh worst to be specific), which presents a clear threat to the health of Maine’s citizens, particularly children. As reported by the Portland Press Herald, Maine has a 4.8 percent voluntary opt-out rate, which is more than double the national average of 1.8 percent.

As someone who is immunosuppressed, and therefore more susceptible to infection and serious complications as a result, the thought of people abstaining from protecting themselves – as well as those around them (myself included) – is sickening.

Furthermore, there are people who for medical reasons cannot get vaccines whose immune systems are much less robust than my own, and for whom illnesses that can be vaccinated against could quickly become lethal. I implore you to think about what that’s like both for that person and their loved ones.

Even as a high school student, I can see how irresponsible it is to compromise the herd immunity that someone’s child, spouse, parent, or friend needs to remain healthy. Compounding this irresponsibility is the fact that the science the anti-vaccination movement is rooted in has been discredited and is disregarded by nearly the entire scientific and medical community.

Consider what it must be like to have a child going through immunosuppressive chemotherapy, concerned that the irresponsible decision made by someone else could end their child’s life. The stakes truly are life and death. Measles, for example, killed 110,000 people globally last year, according to the World Health Organization. These deaths could have been prevented had those who lost their lives been vaccinated.

It is a privilege to be able to be vaccinated, and to not take advantage of this privilege is insulting to the hundreds of thousands who die annually due to a lack of access to vaccines.

The good news is that there is a simple solution to this problem: support legislation that will prevent people from opting out of vaccinations for any reason other than pertinent medical ones. A bill is being drafted by Maine legislators to do just this.

On behalf of those who are at risk – children who are not vaccinated and those such as myself, who are put at risk by low vaccination rates – I implore you to support this legislation. Vaccines save lives. By supporting this legislation you can help protect at-risk members of communities across our state, while also protecting yourself.

Matt Hogenauer is 17 and lives in Falmouth.

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