Four incorrect (but widely repeated) claims were made by Maine representatives to justify getting rid of religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions. Here I list them and provide documentation to show why they are wrong.
Maine’s rate for all children exempted from any required vaccine is 5.0%. While this is exactly in the middle of all states, at first glance it appears very high. On closer look (see the Figure at the end of the article) 23 or 24 states have lower vaccination rates, but lower exemption rates—because they have an appreciable number of students who are unvaccinated but have obtained no exemptions. The CDC’s graph shows this for the MMR. That is why Maine beats the median vaccination rates, but appears to have a high exemption rate.
2. “We Need to Achieve Herd Immunity.” There is no established percentage of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, Herd immunity numbers are estimates, which vary by disease and vaccine. An NIH newsletter noted that mathematical models is where these percentages come from: “Using mathematical formulas and computer programs, NIH-funded scientists like Lipsitch have developed models to determine what proportion of the population has to be vaccinated to eliminate the spread of disease.”
3.“Measles was eradicated, and now it is back.” Eradication of measles in the US was declared in 2000. This designation by the WHO meant that measles did not continuously circulate in the US. It still doesn’t —or didn’t until some NY health depts failed to require isolation of cases and contacts in late 2018-2019. But eradication did not mean that outbreaks stopped. The US has had 10-20 measles outbreaks/year since 2000; 90% were due to travelers incubating measles when they entered the US, and 10% of cases were of unknown cause.
4. “Vaccines are Safe. Vaccines are Effective.” Well, vaccines are somewhat safe and somewhat effective. Each vaccine is different.Congress charged the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) with studying vaccine safety. Its 2011 report on adverse events and vaccines concluded that the most important information (such as whether specific vaccines cause autism) has not been resolved. The science is not settled.
“The Institute of Medicine (IOM) was charged by Congress when it enacted the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986 with reviewing the literature regarding the adverse events associated with vaccines covered by the program, a charge which the IOM has addressed 11 times in the past 25 years. Following in this tradition, the task of this committee was to assess dispassionately the scientific evidence about whether eight different vaccines cause adverse events (AE), a total of 158 vaccine-AE pairs, the largest study undertaken to date, and the first comprehensive review since 1994.