Maine Senate rejects ending religious exemptions for vaccinations

FILE PHOTO: An illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle studded with glycoprotein tubercles in this handout image obtained by Reuters April 9, 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

An effort to end all non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccinations in Maine was in limbo on Thursday after the state Senate voted to amend it to allow parents to keep opting out on religious grounds.

The bill had passed the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives last month, making Maine one of at least seven states considering ending non-medical exemptions amid the worst outbreak of measles in the United States in 25 years.

In a close vote, 18 lawmakers in the Democratic-led state Senate supported an amendment to the House bill to retain the religious exemption that exists in state law, while 17 voted against. The senators approved ending exemptions for children whose parents oppose vaccination for “philosophical reasons.”

Several senators who had trained and worked as doctors argued at length ahead of the vote to allow an exemption only if a healthcare provider deemed it medically necessary. Others noted no major U.S. religion opposes vaccinations.

Senator Linda Sanborn, a Democrat who has practiced family medicine, said the bill was to prevent “an impending disaster” in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Five percent of Maine’s kindergarten students have non-medical exemptions from vaccination, compared with a national average of 2 percent.

She said other fatal diseases could follow the fate of smallpox, which was globally eradicated through vaccination efforts, adding: “It takes a community caring about not just ourselves but our neighbors to make this happen.”

Senate Republicans, including Scott Cyrway, opposed the bill as government overreach into the private sphere.

“We’re forcing someone to do something when we don’t really have to,” Cyrway said.

In neighboring Vermont, lawmakers voted in 2015 to remove philosophical exemptions while leaving in place religious ones. As a result, more parents sought and received those exemptions – 3.9 percent in 2017, up from 0.9 percent in 2015, according to the state’s Department of Health.

In Maine, the amended bill will go back to the House, which can vote either to accept or reject the amendment. If both chambers cannot agree, the bill dies.

A spokeswoman for the House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There have been no measles cases in Maine since 2007, but officials have worried about recent outbreaks of whooping cough, another childhood disease for which there is a mandatory vaccination.

Only three states have outlawed any non-medical exemptions for vaccinations – California, Mississippi and West Virginia.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

U.S. records 71 new measles cases in week as outbreak spreads

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 71 new measles cases last week, a 13 percent increase as the country faces its second-worst outbreak of the disease in almost two decades, federal health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had recorded 626 cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease in 22 states as of April 19, the highest rate of infection in five years.

The CDC had previously reported 555 cases in 20 states between Jan. 1 and April 11. The current outbreak will likely surpass the 2014 outbreak in number of cases, the CDC said on Monday.

Iowa and Tennessee were the two states that joined the CDC list with new measles cases.

More than half the cases recorded this year occurred in New York City, primarily in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The U.S. outbreak is part of a worldwide rise in the once nearly eradicated disease. The World Health Organization reported last week that global cases had risen nearly four-fold in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year.

A vocal fringe of parents in the United States oppose vaccines believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in them can cause autism or other disorders.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Maju Samuel and Bill Berkrot)

Explainer: Low vaccination rates, global outbreaks fuel U.S. measles spread

A measles poster is seen at Venice Family Clinic in Los Angeles, California February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – A measles outbreak that has stricken at least 225 people in New York state since October began with a traveler who visited Israel during the Jewish high holidays and returned to a predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Rockland County.

A similar pattern unfolded three months later and nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away when a person who visited Eastern Europe returned to a community with strong ties to a local church group in Vancouver, Washington. More than 50 people fell ill there.

In both instances, U.S. travelers picked up measles in foreign countries where the highly contagious disease was running rampant and brought it back to places where vaccination rates were too low by U.S. public health standards, setting off the worst outbreaks seen in those states in decades.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says New York’s outbreak marks the highest tally of imported cases since measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000.

The two outbreaks appear to be winding down, health officials say, after concerted efforts to pinpoint the origins and isolate and inoculate those who were exposed but unprotected and educate parents who had resisted vaccines.

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated. Most cited philosophical or religious reasons, or concerns – debunked by medical science – that the three-way vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) could cause autism, authorities said.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said another key factor was mere “complacency” in an age where the potential ravages of measles are unfamiliar to parents who came of age after the vaccine was introduced in 1957.

In Rockland County, the suburb north of Manhattan accounting for the bulk of cases, the state has vaccinated 15,000 children since the outbreak began there last autumn, Zucker said. The Brooklyn borough of New York City was another hot spot.

Still, officials say the measles crisis in New York and Washington states offer a lesson about the importance of maintaining a minimum level of “herd” immunization against dangerous, preventable diseases such as measles.

It also highlights the global nature of disease control, in which a hot spot of infection in one country can ignite a distant outbreak in an immunization-weak spot of another, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington’s top epidemiologist.

Here are some key facts about measles and immunization, according to public health experts and the CDC.


A 95 percent rate of immunization is required to provide sufficient “herd” protection in a given population. Rates as low as 60 percent were found in parts of New York where measles spread, Zucker said.


Symptoms typically include high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes, followed by tiny white spots inside the mouth and a red rash that can cover the body.

Serious and potentially fatal complications, especially in young children and pregnant women, can include pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Ear infections occur in about 10 percent of children with measles and can lead to permanent hearing loss.

One rare but fatal complication is subacute panencephalitis (SSPE), which can attack the central nervous system seven to 10 years after a person has recovered from measles.


Measles is spread through casual contact with the virus, which can linger and remain infectious in the air of an enclosed space for up to two hours after it is breathed out by someone carrying the disease. The rate of transmission from an infected person to another individual nearby who lacks immunity is about 90 percent.


Health authorities say the strain of the virus identified in Washington state matches the one circulating widely in Ukraine since last year. The New York outbreak has been tracked back to separate flare-ups of measles in Israel and in Eastern Europe.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Washington Woman Dies From Measles

Washington state officials have confirmed a woman’s death from measles, the first person in the U.S. to die of the disease in 12 years.

The Washington State Department of Health said it was likely the woman became exposed during an outbreak in Clallam County, just northwest of Seattle.  The disease was reported in six people in the county versus a total of 11 in the state.

The woman visited a medical facility at the same time as a person later diagnosed with measles.  She had a variety of health issues that depressed her immune system which caused death via pneumonia from measles.

“This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles,” the state health department’s statement read. “People with compromised immune systems often cannot be vaccinated against measles.”

The CDC said that measles were effectively eliminated in the United States in 2000 but are making a comeback due to adults who are delaying or avoiding vaccinations for their children.

The CDC said that 178 people have been diagnosed with measles in the United States this year with many connected to an outbreak at Disneyland during the 2014 holiday season.

30 Babies Placed Under Home Isolation In Measles Outbreak

An outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland is causing massive problems throughout California according to the LA Times.

Thirty babies are now in home isolation in Alameda County because of possible exposure to measles. Sherri Willis of the Alameda County Public Health Deaprtment told the LA Times that the children were not infected but had contact with measles patients.

“It is our job to try to determine who has been exposed,” Willis said.

There have been 87 confirmed cases of measles connected to the Disneyland strain.  Officials say that most of the people who have contracted the disease were not vaccinated against it and urged all people to get vaccinations if they did not as a child.

Measles is spread through the air by coughing or sneezing.  The U.S. had a record number of cases last year, with 644 infections in 27 states.

Other precautions being taken include over two dozen high school students from Huntington Beach High School being sent home because they were unvaccinated and one student was confirmed to have measles.

“Unimmunized students are excluded from school for 21 days past the date of exposure, during which they need to monitor themselves for signs of measles,” Deanne Thompson, Orange County health care agency spokeswoman said. “This is to avoid spreading the disease.”

Measles Outbreak At Disney Grows To 70 Patients

A measles outbreak traced to Disney theme parks in California continues to grow with 70 people sickened from the highly contagious disease.

The outbreak has now spread to five states and into Mexico with the majority reported in California.

State epidemiologist Gil Chavez told reporters that anyone who has not had the MMR (mumps/measles/rubella) vaccine should temporarily avoid Disney theme parks.  He also said highly crowded locations like airports or bus stations should also be avoided.

He said anyone who’s been vaccinated has nothing to fear.

State officials said cases range from 7 months to 70 years old.  About 25% of those infected had to be hospitalized and five of the sickened were Disney employees.

Chavez said California averages 4 to 60 measles cases a year, so 2015 is off “to a bad start.”  He said that it’s likely they won’t be able to find patient zero for this outbreak.

New York Health Department Finds Possible Measles Source

The recent outbreak of measles in New York City appears to have a very unlikely source.


The Department has confirmed their investigators are looking into the possibility that virus was spreading through waiting rooms packed with people waiting for the ER to become available to see them.  Because the virus can be spread easily when someone coughs, a person infected with the virus could potentially expose hundreds while waiting for a doctor.

“Sometimes the doctors are not quick to recognize that it is measles and therefore before you know it that patient has been sitting in a waiting room with 20 or 30 people around them and now they are exposed because these types of diseases are very infectious,” said Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News Channel.

Emails were sent to staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center giving instructions to help staff better recognize the signs of measles and encouraging them to act quickly and appropriately.

Measles Poses Threat To U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control is warning the “eliminated” disease is becoming a threat again to the United States.

The CDC says because measles runs rampant overseas that travelers are bringing the disease back with them from foreign travel.

“A measles outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere,” the CDC said in a press release. “The steady arrival of measles in the United States is a constant reminder that deadly diseases are testing our health security every day. Someday, it won’t be only measles at the international arrival gate; so, detecting diseases before they arrive is a wise investment in U.S. health security.”

The CDC reported that 18 children every hour around the world dies from measles.

Statistics for 2013 show 175 confirmed cases in the U.S. this year, almost three times the number of average cases each year since 2000.