The state of Maine has joined California, West Virginia, and Mississippi in barring the use of religious and philosophical exemptions to opt out of school immunization requirements.
Governor Janet Mills signed the bill on Friday after it was narrowly passed by state legislators last week. The state senate voted to approve the bill in a 19-16 vote on Thursday. The state house passed the bill in a 79-62 vote earlier in the week.
“As governor, it is my responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Maine people, and it has become clear that our current laws do not adequately protect against the risks posed to Mainers,” Mills said in a statement to CNN.
The new law, which ends non-medical exemptions to vaccines and takes effect September 2021, comes amid a nationwide controversy over parents who shun the use of childhood vaccinations. Likewise, it follows a resurgence of measles in the United States, which, two decades ago, declared the virus had been eliminated thanks to an improved vaccine.
As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cases of measles have been confirmed in 26 states—an increase of 60 cases from the previous week. “This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000,” the center said.
Experts have widely attributed the outbreaks to rampant misinformation about vaccines online, which have been propelled, at least in part, by President Trump. Prior to seeking office, Trump, who now commands a Twitter following of more than 60 million, tweeted numerous conspiracy theories linking vaccinations to autism.
The link between autism, the rate of which has risen considerably in recent decades, and vaccinations stems from a study published in the 1990s, which did not in itself demonstrate a causal relationship between vaccinations and autism. The lead researcher of that study was also banned from practicing medicine in Britain after it was revealed he had been paid by attorneys who had filed lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. Lancet, the medical journal that published the study, retracted it in 2010.
Sites such as YouTube have allowed such conspiracies to spread, however. The company took action only this year to demonetize accounts promoting so-called “anti-vax” theories. In March, Instagram banned a number of prominent anti-vax hashtags, though at the time, others like #vaccineskill remained.
In the same month, Amazon pulled multiple anti-vax documentaries from its streaming service, not long after removing two books from its digital shelves that peddled pseudo-scientific “autism cures.” Amazon’s decision followed a damning report in Wired titled “Amazon Sells ‘Autism Cure’ Books That Suggest Children Drink Toxic, Bleach-Like Substances.”
Facebook also removed several ads that month posted by a prominent “anti-vaxxer” who had spent $5,000 targeting women in the Washington-area, where a measles outbreak was underway.
Meanwhile, in April, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared on the podcast of Ben Greenfield, a known purveyor of anti-vaccination theories. A Twitter spokesperson said Dorsey was unaware of host’s views on the matter, which were not broached during the interview.
Greenfield had tweeted just three months earlier: “Vaccines do indeed cause autism.”