Editorial: No on 1

Tens of thousands of people, mainly in China, have been infected with coronavirus. More than one thousand people have died. Public health officials worldwide are scurrying to get a vaccine into development.

With millions of potential customers following any major viral outbreak, it stands to reason that all the pharmaceutical giants would be racing to find a vaccine. But that is not always the case. Getting a vaccine to market can take years, cost millions and success is by no means assured. So, there is a certain irony in “Reject Big Pharma” becoming the rallying cry of Mainers who want to reinstate religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccines. A March 3 referendum will ask voters whether they want to overturn the law that eliminated those exemptions.

The global market for vaccines is expected to reach $59.2 billion this year, according to an industry survey. That’s a vast sum, to be sure, but only a small percentage of total pharmaceutical revenues. And if companies don’t make money on vaccines, why would they make them at all? It is the public — not “Big Pharma” — that stands to benefit most.

Vaccines have been overwhelmingly proven safe and effective. But real safety lies in numbers.

At 5.6 percent, Maine’s non-medical vaccination opt-out rate is nearly triple the national average for kindergartners. High school seniors here in Hancock County have some of the highest exemption rates.

These children have been left vulnerable to preventable diseases. They also pose a risk to other children, individuals with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, infants, people with cancer and the small percentage of the population for whom vaccines don’t work well. Diseases considered rare or even eradicated in the United States can resurge. Take measles. If someone with measles coughs, the virus can remain live in the room for up to two hours. It’s so contagious, that 9 out of 10 people who come into contact with a sick individual also will become sick if they aren’t immune. And while measles was once considered a childhood rite of passage, it can kill.

Parents should have the authority to make decisions on behalf of their children. Government should interfere with that right only when absolutely necessary. Making school as safe as possible for all children is necessary.

Vote no on Question 1.

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