Hundreds descend on Augusta for hot button vaccination bill public hearing

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Hundreds of people descended upon Augusta Wednesday for a public hearing on two bills dealing with the hot button issue of vaccinations.

The bill that saw a majority of the testimony is one presented by Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono.

"We have a threat sitting here, and we want to make sure that we take action and take care of the problem before we start seeing headlines in the Bangor Daily News that are currently being seen in the New York Times or the Seattle Times," said Tipping.

His bill would remove the vaccination exemptions for religious and philosophical beliefs for students from day care through college.

This means students who are currently exempt would most likely have to be home-schooled.

It also applies to employees of nursery schools and health care facilities.

"It's not a matter of opinion," said Dr. Sam Zager, who testified in support of the bill. "There's actual studies that have been done, and we know that when the vaccination rates drop below about 95%, we put ourselves into a red zone. We put our communities, our vulnerable children, and other individuals at tremendous risk."

Opponents, however, say the bill infringes upon their medical and religious freedoms.

"I want to be able to choose what I want to do," said Toni Vashinsky, who testified against the bill. "If I want to vaccinate, then I should be able to choose if I want to do all or none. And vice versa, if I choose not to vaccinate, I shouldn't have to be forced to do anything by the government."

Some brought personal stories to the testimony.

"My son at 15 months suffered an, suffered brain inflammation, as well as a seizure from the MMR vaccine," said Rachel Ortiz, who also testified against the bill. "And he went from being a child meeting his milestones, walking, talking, running, talking to me, calling me Mom, and that's all gone now."

The public hearing started at 1:00pm and went into the night.