Gov. Mills kicks off flip-flop season killing religious vaccine exemption, names CDC head with troubles in Illinois

Left: Gov. Janet Mills signs a document as Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson look on. Right: Two screenshots of Janet Mills telling people on social media that she would not support removing Maine’s religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines. On Friday, Gov. Mills changed direction and signed a bill to do just that.

AUGUSTA – Mainers who believe that parents should be able to use vaccine exemptions for medical, religious or philosophical purposes for their children to attend private or public schools are not pleased with Governor Janet Mills for signing a bill to end those exemptions as Memorial Day weekend began. On the same day she signed that bill, Mills made what could prove to be a very controversial announcement about her choice to run Maine’s Centers for Disease Control, which provides oversight of the Maine’s immunization program.

During the campaign for Governor, candidate Mills replied on social media to voter inquiries about whether she supported Maine’s religious and philosophical exemptions, and her replies unequivocally stated that she supported keeping them both in place.

But after being elected, Mills flipped on the issue, supporting a bill that was moving through the Maine Legislature that eliminates both the religious and philosophical exemptions.

Despite Mills’ promises from the campaign trail, she signed the bill on Friday, just as Maine’s summer tourist season was kicking off.

Opponents of the bill argued that the removal of the exemptions would violate the parental and religious rights of students. The bill’s reach extends beyond Maine’s public schools into private religious schools, day care centers, health care facilities and even students who plan to participate in non-traditional and postsecondary schools.

The bill was nearly altered to preserve the religious exemption by the Maine Senate, but Democrats in the Maine House refused to confirm the amendment and sent it back to the Senate, insisting both the religious and philosophical amendments be included.

The Senate then acquiesced to the House’s version of the bill.

In the days leading up to the final vote, a student in Maine was diagnosed with measles, but in the hours before the vote, the Maine CDC said that the student had recently been vaccinated and that the symptoms were from the vaccine.

Senators on both sides used that news in floor speeches to attempt to change minds in the floor debate in the Senate, but to no avail.

With Mills’ signature, Maine becomes an extreme outlier for specifically removing a religious exemption for vaccinations, perhaps the first state to ever do so.

In 2016, California removed that state’s “personal belief” exemptions, which was the exemption a parent with a religious objection to vaccines had to claim to avoid vaccinating their child. Maine will now become the fourth state to not provide for the religious exemption, along with Mississippi, West Virginia and California.

Controversy at Maine CDC?

On the same day Governor Mills signed the bill to end Maine’s philosophical and religious exemptions, she also named Nirav Shah, the former director of the Illinois Department of Public Health to head the CDC.

According to the Chicago Tribune, an audit of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease that killed 12 people at Quincy Veterans Home showed that Shah “dismissed the need for having the CDC visit the facility on the eighth day of the outbreak that began Aug. 21, 2015.” (Click here to read Chicago Tribune article)

The audit also said Mr. Shah was part of an effort to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak, which has seen recurring outbreaks. On November 5, 2018, Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, both Democrats, called on Shah to resign for his role in the debacle. (Click here to read press release)

The outbreak and response became a major topic of the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial campaign. The Mills administration says Shah will start at his post at Maine CDC in early June.

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s Commissioner of DHHS appointed by Mills, and Rep. Patty Hymanson (D – York), praised the appointment of Shah in statements to Maine media.

Evidence of Gov. Mills’ flip on vaccine exemptions

Following are screenshots of Janet Mills as a candidate assuring voters she would not support eliminating the religious exemption in Maine’s vaccine law.

One screenshot of Janet Mills telling a voter she would not remove the philosophical and religious vaccine exemptions.
A second screenshot of Janet Mills telling a voter she would not remove the religious vaccine exemption.
A third screenshot of Janet Mills telling a voter she would not remove the religious vaccine exemption.

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