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Fewer Maine students opted out of vaccines last school year after lawmakers eliminated exemptions

DeMarcus Hicks, a recent graduate of nursing school who is working as a contractor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gives a person a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, Dec. 20, 2021, in Federal Way, Wash.
Ted S. Warren
/
AP file
DeMarcus Hicks, a recent graduate of nursing school who is working as a contractor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gives a person a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, Dec. 20, 2021, in Federal Way, Wash.

According to new data from the Maine CDC, more Maine students received required vaccinations following the state's new immunization law for school-age children.

The agency reports that more than 95% of kindergarteners were vaccinated for diseases such as whooping cough, polio and measles during the 2021-2022 school year, an improvement of two percentage points compared to the year before.

Last year was the first in which Maine families were no longer allowed to claim religious or philosophical objections to immunizations.

The Maine legislature passed the new vaccine law in 2019. A people's veto effort to repeal the legislation made it to Maine's ballot in 2020, but voters rejected that effort by a more than two-to-one margin.

According to the latest data released by the CDC, total exemptions among kindergarteners fell to 1.8% — less than half the statewide rate from the year before.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said the higher rates are encouraging, and provide protection to both those who've been vaccinated and those who can't receive a shot.

"Maybe they can't be vaccinated because they're not old enough yet. Maybe they can't be vaccinated because they have a valid medical reason why their vaccine is contraindicated," Shah said. "But by increasing our vaccination rates in kids, and thus in schools, we protect not only those kids who are vaccinated, but also those who can't be vaccinated."

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, the president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that the improved vaccination rates will protect students, particularly after the state had seen recent outbreaks of diseases such as chicken pox and pertussis.

"I just am thrilled to see that a common sense, public health policy put into place has made such an impact, in short order," Blaisdell said.

About 1.5% of Maine kindergarteners received medical exemptions last school year.