AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. David Sawicki, R-Auburn, is asking Maine lawmakers to approve a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against any person who decides to forgo certain vaccinations.

Sawicki is the sponsor of LD 950, An Act to Prohibit Discrimination against a Person Who Is Not Vaccinated.

Sawicki said Monday that his bill is simple, in that if a person or the parent of a child decided against vaccinations for any reason, he or she could not be discriminated against by a school, employer or any other entity.

While Maine already allows for a “philosophical exemption,” Sawicki said his measure strengthens that and would make it difficult for the state to ever rollback that exemption.

“We are naturally born with a genius immune system, endowed by our creator, that has enabled the human race to grow and thrive over the eons,” Sawicki told the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Monday. “The immune system we are born with today has evolved and improved over the centuries as our environment and way of life has changed, and we have adapted. On the other hand, the existence of the vaccine business, relative to the existence of human beings, is but a tiny blip, 50 or so years.”

Sawicki said Mainers concerned that unvaccinated children might spread illness and disease in public schools shouldn’t worry if their children are vaccinated against the diseases they are worried about and they believe in vaccines.

He also said the idea that people could be forced to take a vaccine they don’t want conjured visions of “the horrors of Nazi Germany, forced sterilization, interment, execution and involuntary medical experimentation.”

He also said a legal requirement that a person have a vaccination was a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated.”

Sawicki said his bill is about the ability to maintain the rights of informed consent for Mainers who are opposed to vaccines or who are concerned they may be the cause for other conditions or ailments including Type 1 diabetes and autism.

“I present LD 950 to this committee to protect all Mainers’ rights to informed consent when it comes to the choices we as consumers make for what we decide to put into our bodies, or, conversely, have removed from our bodies, because that is what we choose to do medically as free human beings,” Sawicki said. “The right to choose.”

Also speaking in favor of Sawicki’s bill was Rep. Robert Foley, R-Wells. Foley told the committee how he and his wife lost an infant daughter 28 years ago, just 36 hours after her first vaccines. Foley said he and his wife pushed for a review of the vaccines at both the state and federal level but were ultimately rebuffed.

“Unfortunately, we were left with the saddest of diagnoses, no known cause of death, sudden infant death syndrome” Foley said.

“There is not a person in this room, or even in these halls, who will ever convince us that those vaccinations did not play a contributing factor in our daughter’s untimely death,” he said.

Foley said he and his wife took a more conservative approach with their other children and did not give them any vaccines until they were at least 9 months old.

“I know there are those who will argue that my choice not to vaccinate or to vaccinate under a different protocol somehow impacts their child’s health,” Foley said. “But I ask you, how does my not vaccinating my child impose any risk to your child that you’ve chosen to vaccinate, if the vaccinations prevent the disease in the first place?”

Those speaking in opposition to the bill, including a representative for the Maine Medical Association, said it would create a “protected class” for nonvaccinated Mainers in state law.

Andrew MacLean, the association’s deputy executive vice president and general counsel, said most private employers did not check vaccination records of workers, but it was critical for health care providers in order to protect vulnerable patients.

MacLean said health care workers who decide against certain vaccines are allowed to keep working provided they follow other protocols. He said in the case of influenza, health care workers who don’t want a vaccination are often required to wear a mask to protect against spreading the virus to a patient or vice versa. He also noted many health care organizations do not allow unvaccinated employees to work with patients in the event of an infectious disease outbreak such as measles.

Those types of protocols could be viewed as discrimination under Sawicki’s bill but would not be in the public’s best interest to overturn, MacLean said.

“Vaccines save lives,” MacLean said. “They are the safest, most effective way to control and eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases here in Maine and across the globe.”

The hearing Monday is expected to be a precursor to additional hearings on other bills dealing with vaccines that are scheduled to be heard before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee later this month.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.