ELLSWORTH — On April 23, in a 78-59 vote that was largely along party lines with Republicans opposing, the Maine House of Representatives approved a bill that would end religious and philosophical exemptions for school vaccination requirements.
The bill would bar children who have not received certain vaccines from attending school unless parents or guardians can prove there is a medical reason why their children should be exempt. (It would not force parents to vaccinate their children.)
The bill is being debated as measles outbreaks from California to New York prompt public health alerts and quarantines. Maine’s non-medical opt-out rate reached an all-time high this year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), climbing to 5.6 percent. This was nearly triple the national average for kindergartners in 2016-2017.
Medical exemptions doubled, from 0.3 to 0.6 percent, with rates even higher in Hancock County, which has among the highest vaccination opt-out rates of all counties in Maine.
Nearly 10 percent of kindergartners were exempt from vaccination in Hancock County during the 2018-2019 school year compared to 6.2 percent statewide.