Maine Senate votes to remove religious exemption for vaccines

Maine Senate votes to remove religious exemption for vaccines
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Maine's Senate on Tuesday voted to end a religious exemption to vaccines for students, becoming the latest state in the country to address growing concerns over low vaccination rates. 

The state Senate voted 18-17 to end the exemption, with all Republicans voting against the change, according to the Portland Press Herald. One Democrat reversed course after initially opposing the rule change last week, changing the end vote.

“We are pushing religious people out of our great state,” said state Sen. Lisa Kiem (R) ahead the vote, according to the newspaper. “And we will also be closing the door on religious people who may consider making Maine their home. We are fooling ourselves if we don’t believe an exodus would come about.”

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The bill's supporters, however, argued that nonmedical exemptions are a public health risk, especially for people with weakened immune systems.

“It is absolutely, not now, and it never will be my interest in keeping any child from his or her education,” said state Sen. Brownie Carson (D), according to the newspaper. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) testified in favor of the bill's passage.

According to the Press Herald, Maine's kindergarten vaccination opt-out rate was 5.6 percent for the 2018-2019 school year, more than three times the national average of 1.8 percent.

The state also has the country's highest rate of whooping cough, which is a vaccine-preventable disease, the paper reported.

State law currently allows parents to not vaccinate their children for philosophical and religious reasons if they sign a form. If the legislation advanced on Tuesday becomes law, Maine would be the fourth state to prohibit nonmedical exemptions, following California, Mississippi and West Virginia.