Maine Senate passes vaccine bill to end most exemptions; Mills expected to sign

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - The bill to eliminate philosophical and religious exemptions to vaccines passed the Senate Thursday in a final vote.

It affects schoolchildren of all ages and nursery school and health care facility employees.

The bill now heads to the Governor's desk.

Hundreds of people flooded the State House in one last effort to stop the Senate from passing the bill.

"I'm here because I have a 14-year-old son with a vaccine injury who functions at the 4-year-old level," said special education teacher Jessica Creedon.

"I'm here because after a long journey of treatment for unknown, undiagnosed vision impairments, we discussed that our source was reaction to vaccination," said Mimi Hoff.

After several passionate floor speeches, the Senate passed the bill on a 19-16 vote.

"We want all of our children to be safe, whether they're in daycare, whether they're in schools, whether they're in the grocery store, wherever they are they really need to be protected," said Sen. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham. "We know that vaccines work. We know that they're safe. I think this is a step forward to help more kids become vaccinated."

Supporters say having high vaccination rates keeps kids safe from diseases, especially kids with medical situations that do not allow them to be vaccinated.

"I always felt like I wanted to change that -- to be able to protect immunocompromised kids, kids with cancer, kids with allergies that couldn't take vaccines, and this bill helps that happen," said Sarah Staffiere of Maine Families for Vaccines.

For some families I talked to, they said they will have to decide whether to homeschool their kids or even move out of the state if this bill becomes law.

"(I'm) really disappointed in a lot of people that couldn't see and listen to the message that we have that healthy kids is what's important," said Creedon. "Vaccines aren't going to make schools safer. Vaccines aren't going to make schools healthier."

Governor Mills is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming week.