Fewer Maine students are opting out of vaccines.
In this May 6, 2022, file photo, Lois Myers, a nurse with Northern Light Health, prepares a coronavirus vaccine in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

More Maine students received required vaccines following the state’s new immunization law for school-age children.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 95 percent of kindergarteners were vaccinated for diseases such as whooping cough, polio and measles during the 2021-2022 school year, an improvement of two percentage points compared to the year before.

Last year was the first when Maine families were no longer allowed to claim religious or philosophical objections to immunizations.

The Legislature passed the vaccine law in 2019. A people’s veto to repeal the legislation made it to Maine’s ballot in 2020, but voters rejected that effort by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Total exemptions among kindergarteners fell to 1.8 percent — less than half the statewide rate from the year before, according to the latest data.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said the higher rates are encouraging and provide protection to those who’ve been vaccinated and those who can’t receive a shot.

“Maybe they can’t be vaccinated because they’re not old enough yet. Maybe they can’t be vaccinated because they have a valid medical reason why their vaccine is contraindicated,” Shah said. “But by increasing our vaccination rates in kids, and thus in schools, we protect not only those kids who are vaccinated, but also those who can’t be vaccinated.”

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, the president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that the improved vaccination rates will protect students, particularly after the state had seen recent outbreaks of diseases such as chicken pox and pertussis.

“I just am thrilled to see that a common sense, public health policy put into place has made such an impact, in short order,” Blaisdell said.

About 1.5 percent of Maine kindergarteners received medical exemptions last school year.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.