I became an advocate for vaccination with the National Meningitis Association nearly 15 years ago, after we lost our son to a vaccine-preventable disease.

Vaccines are one of the greatest public health achievements of all time. Today’s U.S. immunization schedule prevents 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease in each age group — what the CDC refers to as a “birth cohort.” This means 42,000 more 3-year-olds will live to a ripe old age than they would if they hadn’t received vaccines. The same goes for 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and so on. But here in Maine, vaccination rates are well behind national averages.

Jeri Greenwell

All of us in the vaccine advocacy community celebrated when Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 798 last May. This law eliminates all non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccinations — sending a loud and clear message about the importance of protecting our children and those around them.

As we celebrated this hard-fought victory for our state’s public health, anti-vaccine groups began working to overturn the law. They managed to get a referendum to reverse LD 798 added to Maine’s primary ballot — called Question 1. During an election on March 3, Maine voters will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on Question 1.

It is critical that everyone votes “no.”

Anti-vaccine groups will spread lies, use scare tactics and talk about fake research to convince people to overturn this important law. But I know, firsthand, the devastation of not vaccinating a child. Our son Jerry contracted meningococcal meningitis in 2003. Within just a few hours, Jerry went from a healthy, vibrant 23-year-old young man into critical care. He died just three days later. The vaccine that would have protected our son wasn’t recommended routinely then, but it is today — and I want everyone else’s son and daughter to have the protection our son lacked.

One reason people don’t understand the benefits of vaccines is because they can’t see them. That’s not because the diseases vaccine prevent are gone, it’s because the vaccines are doing their job. It’s that simple. When vaccination rates go down, disease cases go up. In the past two years, more than 30,000 U.S. kids got whooping cough — a disease many of us thought was in the past — and we know of at least two dozen who died. That should not happen; and we can’t let it happen with meningitis, polio, diphtheria and all of the other diseases that vaccines protect our children from.

Maine Families for Vaccines is on the front lines of this fight. As a grassroots PAC composed of parent volunteers, the group championed the passage of LD 798 and is committed to ensuring that the public health strides made last year are not taken away by this dangerous referendum. I am proud to work alongside Maine Families for Vaccines as we fight for the continued health and well-being of children and adolescents here in Maine.

By voting “no” on Question 1, people will help to send a loud and clear message that the health and well-being of our children is too important to risk. But, even more than that, people will be a part of the chorus of voices speaking up for the facts and data that have, time and again, proven that vaccines save lives. A “no” vote is a vote in favor of public health. It’s a vote for science and research-backed approaches to protecting our kids and our communities from deadly diseases.

I hope the voting public will say “no” to Question 1 on March 3 in order to defeat this campaign and ensure that Maine’s children and adolescents continue to be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases for years to come. Overturning LD 798 would be a devastating setback to the public health of Maine — and one that we just cannot afford.

Jeri Greenwell is an advocate for the National Meningitis Association. She is working with Maine Families for Vaccines and is a longtime resident of Bethel. 


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