Gov. Janet Mills speaks at an event in the Hall of Flag at the State House in Augusta in this file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills said Friday she opposes a referendum that would overturn Maine’s law eliminating religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations.

In a radio address, Mills, a Democrat, said she signed the law last year to better protect the health and welfare of residents across Maine.

People against the new law gathered enough signatures to put a referendum question on the March 3 ballot in hope of overturning the law. They oppose what they describe as “Big Pharma” and government overreach while supporting parental rights.

Mills said the campaign is purposefully trying to conflate vaccinations with other issues like the opioid epidemic.

“Vaccines work, but to make them more effective, people need to be vaccinated, especially children,” Mills said.

The Legislature’s removal of religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations last year came against the backdrop of a spike in whooping cough cases in Maine.

The legislation ends non-medical vaccine opt-outs by September 2021 for students at public schools and universities, including nursery schools, and for health care facility employees.