LEWISTON — More than 120 Lewiston public school students are missing state-mandated vaccines, which, if not addressed, could prohibit them from attending school.

In 2019, the Maine Legislature banned nonmedical exemptions for vaccines required to attend school. Previously, parents could opt-out of immunizations for their children on philosophic or religious grounds.

The law has been in effect since at least the start of the current school year, but some districts have been slow to implement it due to lingering effects from the pandemic. The Lewiston school district began communicating the requirement to families whose children were not compliant in December, with a deadline of Feb. 1.

When Superintendent Jake Langlais learned how many students had yet to meet the requirement, he decided not to enforce the deadline.

“Let’s figure out what we can do,” he said.

Langlais believes that language barriers and negative views of vaccinations have played a role in the large number of students who have yet to meet the requirement. But even some families who are actively seeking these vaccines have been unable to get them, he added.


“If it’s about access for families, then there is nothing that feels right about telling a kid you can’t come to school,” Langlais said.

It is unclear whether there will be any repercussions from the state for continuing to allow these students to attend school, Langlais said. But by doing so, he acknowledged that there is a risk of students becoming sick and spreading infectious diseases.

At least one School Committee member, Ward 2 representative Janet Beaudoin, said she does not agree with the law, stating it would be “shameful for the state of Maine” to bar students from school due to vaccinations.

State law requires students to be vaccinated against infectious diseases, including whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps and chickenpox. The COVID-19 vaccine is not one of the vaccines required by the state.

There are about 5,085 students in the Lewiston school district, meaning about one in 50 students does not meet the state’s requirement. Connors Elementary School has 70 students who are not in compliance, the highest number of any school in the district, according to Langlais.

At some point the district will exhaust its options and will have no choice but to restrict students who do not have all of the required vaccines from attending school, Langlais said.

When the controversial law was passed in 2019, Maine had one of the worst vaccination rates for children entering kindergarten in the nation, and the country’s highest rate of pertussis, a vaccine-preventable disease also known as whooping cough, according to the Portland Press Herald. In 2017-18, Maine’s opt-out rate for school vaccinations was 5.6%, three times higher than the national average.

During the 2021-2022 school year, 73 students unenrolled from Maine public schools because they didn’t have the required vaccinations. Thirty-seven students have unenrolled for the same reason so far this school year.

Families should contact their child’s school nurse for more information about the required vaccines.

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