Vaccine vote exposes a collision of individual, community rights

|Joe Lawlor, Portland Press Herald|

Maine’s new mandate for school-age children pits individual rights against those of the greater community. Parents argue they just want their kids to be safe.

Sarah Staffiere said the “weight of worry” about her 6-year-old son, Gabe – who has a rare genetic disorder – can sometimes be overwhelming. He could be hospitalized or even die if he’s exposed to an unvaccinated classmate who has a preventable disease.

But Angela Kenney of Hermon is also concerned about her daughter Nevaeh. She says her daughter contracted a disorder that impeded her motor skills shortly after receiving the varicella vaccine in 2007.

Staffiere and Kenney represent the two sides of a highly charged debate over whether parents should have the right to opt their children out of school-required vaccines on philosophic or religious grounds. The debate pits the rights of people who are immune-compromised, and attend or work at a school, against the rights of parents who want to choose to forgo vaccines.

Mainers will decide where they stand on March 3, when they vote on a referendum about whether to keep or overturn a new law that aims to improve Maine’s vaccination rate. The fight has attracted hundreds of volunteers on both sides and close to $1 million in political advertising. “Yes on 1” and “No on 1” signs can be seen in many areas of Maine.

A “yes” vote would jettison the law, which passed the Legislature by one vote in 2019, while a “no” vote would keep it in place. Keep reading