Bill to strip Maine vaccination exemptions moves ahead despite GOP opposition

Assistant Professor Kenneth McCall prepares a measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination at the Portland Community Health Center, March 9, 2015.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would repeal nonmedical exemptions to Maine school immunization requirements won a split legislative committee’s backing on Wednesday, putting the measure supported by Gov. Janet Mills’ administration on track to pass.

The proposal from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, yielded the longest public hearing of the legislative session in March, with nearly 1,700 people filing written testimony to the Legislature’s education committee. That included hundreds of opponents who cited parental rights or pseudoscientific arguments overstating the risks of vaccination.

Majority Democrats unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend an amended version of Tipping’s bill. All Republicans on the panel opposed it.

Now, Maine allows guardians to opt children out of school immunization requirements based on personal, religious or medical beliefs. Only 17 states allow personal exemptions while three states have no religious exemption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tipping’s bill would remove all nonmedical exemptions as a response to rising opt-out rates. During the past school year, only six states had a higher vaccine opt-out rate than Maine, and the share of kindergartners vaccinated for measles

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