AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A brief debate broke out among
legislative leaders over a proposed bill declaring that vaccinations
cannot be mandatory, on the same day that Maine’s public health
director announced that swine flu has been confirmed in all 16 of the
state’s counties.

Over the past week, swine flu has gone from
being limited mostly to central and southern states to having been
confirmed all corners of the state. At least 25 schools are reporting
high absentee rates due to swine flu, and 10 Mainers have been
hospitalized with the disease.

“There is not a part of the state
that is not affected by H1N1,” Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday.

While
H1N1 vaccines continue trickling into the state, the numbers are well
below what officials would like to see, said Mills. By the end of the
week, the state will have received a total of 139,000 doses of swine
flu vaccine, enough for only one in five people in high priority
groups, she said.

As school immunization programs continued, a
brief verbal skirmish broke out in the State House over whether to
permit the introduction of a bill to state clearly that immunizations
cannot be mandatory. State officials have said that the current swine
flu program is completely voluntary.

By a 6-4 vote, legislative
leaders rejected a proposal advanced by Rep. Douglas Thomas, meaning he
can’t introduce it during the session that resumes in January.

In
his appeal to lawmakers, who had rejected his bill last month, Thomas
said he did not want to discourage the ongoing vaccination program. But
he believes the state law over such programs needs to be clarified so
it definitively outlaws mandatory shots.

“Let’s make it perfectly
clear. It’s easy,” said Thomas, R-Ripley, adding that the bill would
ease lingering concerns among many Mainers.

His request drew
support from Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who said, “I
can’t see the downside being that we are facing a pandemic.”

But Senate Majority Leader Philip Bartlett, D-Gorham, said state law already details the rules for administering vaccinations.

For her part, Mills said she knows of no state law that allows health officials to mandate H1N1 vaccines involuntarily.

In
the event the governor declares an extreme public health emergency,
health officials may order vaccinations if necessary to prevent disease
transmission, according to the attorney general’s office. Such an order
is subject to judicial review.


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