This Jan. 23, 2020, file photo shows a patient receiving a flu vaccination in Mesquite, Texas. Credit: LM Otero | AP

“Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?”

Question 1 on the March 3 ballot is a people’s veto. A yes vote means you want to overturn a law passed last year that eliminates the exemptions to vaccine requirements for religious and philosophical reasons. A no vote, which we recommend, will allow the new law to go into effect.

The n ew law requires that students — from kindergarten to college at public and private institutions — be vaccinated against diseases such as measles, mumps, polio and chickenpox, to attend school unless they have a medical exemption from a licensed physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. The same requirements also apply to nursery school and health care workers. The specific vaccination requirements and schedules are set by state and federal health officials.

Maine lawmakers decided the new law was necessary after the use of the philosophical and religious exemptions to skip the required vaccinations rose sharply in recent years. During the last school year, 5.6 percent of Maine kindergarteners were exempted from school vaccinations using these exemptions, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That was a significant increase from 3.9 percent during the 2014-15 school year. In the 2017-18 school year, Maine’s non-medical exemption rate was the seventh highest in the country, and more than double the national average of 2 percent.

Although these percentages look small, they are vitally important. According to health experts, vaccination rates for many diseases need to be as high as 95 percent to be effective at avoiding outbreaks. When vaccination rates fall too low, diseases that have been virtually eliminated because of vaccines can make a comeback.

This happened with measles last year, when 1,282 cases of the disease were reported nationally, the highest number in nearly three decades. The vast majority of these cases were part of an outbreak in New York among a largely unvaccinated population. Maine had its first case of measles in 20 years in 2017.

Most Americans have no direct memory of the time when diseases routinely killed young children. In the early 1900s, infectious diseases, especially influenza and tuberculosis, were the top cause of childhood deaths. Today, accidents cause the most deaths of children under the age of 5. In addition, the death rate among young children has plummeted, thanks to improvements in health care, notably the development of vaccines.

We encourage voters to listen to the Mainers who were disabled by or lost family members to diseases that are now nearly eradicated because of vaccines. Hear the anguish from parents who fear for the safety of their children who have illnesses or are receiving treatments that diminish their immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases. They count on others to be vaccinated. It is part of the social compact that is the foundation of our communities.

Turning our backs on the importance of vaccines would be a dangerous gamble. We don’t need to wait until the next disease epidemic to know that vaccination works. Vaccines, like other medications, can have side effects. They are rare and mostly mild. Exemptions remain available to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Pharmaceutical companies do profit from the manufacture and sale of vaccines, but these profits are a tiny fraction of their income. These companies would likely make more money by selling drugs to quell epidemics than they do making vaccines to prevent them. So, rejecting Maine’s stricter vaccination law wouldn’t harm drug companies — which do deserve plenty of criticism for high prices for many medications. Instead, a yes vote on Question 1 would put Mainers at needless risk.

Opponents of the new law argue that requiring vaccinations to attend school is an infringement on the rights of parents and children. The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees and has repeatedly upheld vaccine mandates.

Simply put, vaccines work. They have saved tens of thousands of lives in America.

For us, the facts are clear, and so is the decision on March 3: Vote no on Question 1 to ensure that vaccines continue to keep deadly diseases at bay.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...