State Watch

Maine governor signs bill to remove religious, philosophical vaccine exemptions

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) has reportedly signed a bill ending most non-medical exemptions for mandatory childhood vaccines, just days after the first confirmed measles case hit the state.

House Democrats in the state said Friday that Mills had signed the bill, according to multiple local reports. The law eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions in Maine, local ABC affiliate WMTW reported.

Under the new law, only doctors and pediatric primary care givers can determine if a child should receive a medical exemption.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention will also release reports on safety and effectiveness of vaccines for transparency, the outlet noted.

Maine becomes the fourth state to eliminate religious exemptions for vaccine requirements, joining California, Mississippi and West Virginia.

The new law will go into effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns, WMTW noted. Unvaccinated students already enrolled in schools have until 2021 to get their required vaccines.

The state legislature voted on the legislation earlier this month, with supporters arguing that non-medical exemptions are a public health risk that especially targets people with weakened immune systems.

Opponents argued that the bill infringes on a parent's right to make medical or religious choices for their children.

"We are pushing religious people out of our great state," state Sen. Lisa Keim (R) said earlier this month, according to the the Portland Press Herald. "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."

Maine has one of the highest rates of non-medical vaccine exemptions in the country.

The 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, according to the Press Herald.

The measles outbreak spreading across the country has now hit 25 states, with Maine becoming the latest state to see a confirmed case.

The nationwide outbreak is the largest since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

Maine is also battling an outbreak of whopping cough, which can be combated with a vaccine.

Outbrain