Residents in Maine will no longer be allowed to avoid getting vaccinated on the basis of their religious or philosophical beliefs.
Gov. Janet Mills signed the new bill last week that effectively removed all non-medical exemptions to immunization.
In a statement to CNN, Mills said it was her responsibility as governor to ensure the health and safety of people in her state. She recognized how Maine's current laws fail to protect residents against the risks of illnesses.
The governor pointed to a recent spate of whooping cough affecting three of Maine's counties. She said the state has the worst rate of the infection in the country.
She also recognized that vaccination is a "very emotional" issue for many of the Maine's residents.
"People of good will hold sincere beliefs on both sides of the issue," Mill noted. "Maine has a vaccination opt-out rate that is three times higher than the national average for students entering Kindergarten and the state ranks seventh in the country for the rate of non-medical exemptions taken among school-age children."
The new legislation is expected to take effect in September 2021.
Lifting Of Vaccination Exemptions
With Mill's signing of the bill, Maine becomes the fourth state in the United States to remove non-medical exemptions to immunization. It joins California, Mississippi, and West Virginia as the only states with such a law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under Maine's new law, children who claimed non-medical exemption before the implementation will be allowed to go to school if their parents or guardians will be able to provide a written statement from a healthcare professional, telling them that they have been informed about the risks of refusing vaccination.
While the state government will no longer honor exemptions based on religious or philosophical reasons, it will still grant medical exemptions.
New Measles Outbreak In the US
The lifting of vaccination exemptions in Maine comes in the midst of a new measles outbreak in the country.
As many as 940 cases of infection have already been reported across 26 different states from January to May, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the most number of measles infections recorded in the United States since 1994.
The CDC believes vaccination is 97 percent effective at preventing the spread of measles. The infection had already been declared eliminated from the country back in 2000 before its sudden resurgence this year.
In Maine, the first confirmed case of measles infection was recorded just this month. It involved a child who had reportedly been vaccinated against the disease. The state's CDC office said the patient has since made a full recovery after getting infected.
In April, the agency said vaccination rates among school-age children in the state was on a decline across most known infections. Rates were already well below ideal levels for herd immunity or the threshold at which enough people in an area have received immunization to prevent disease outbreaks even among unvaccinated individuals.
The CDC pointed out that almost half of Maine's kindergarten classes failed to meet the required 95 percent of immunization for the herd immunity threshold.