You’ve probably seen the signs: “Yes on 1, Reject Big Pharma.” The nicest thing we can say about these signs is that they are extremely misleading. On March 3, Maine voters will choose whether to reject a law passed last year by the Maine Legislature that would strengthen public health in Maine. Public Law 154 provides more flexibility for medical exemptions from vaccination requirements, while eliminating religious and philosophical exemptions for Maine students, children in preschool and day care, and for employees of day care facilities. Voting “no” on Question 1 means that the new law will stand, strengthening public health in Maine. Voting “yes” means the law will be repealed, weakening Maine public health standards.

This is especially relevant in Knox County, which has the highest rate of kindergarten vaccine exemptions in the state, according to Maine Department of Health and Human Services. And our local state senators, Dave Miramant (Camden) and Erin Herbig (Belfast), were among the only three Democrats in the Legislature to oppose Public Law 154.

To learn more about the Yes on 1 campaign, we visited its website. The homepage leans heavily on “Reject Big Pharma” rhetoric, to which we are sympathetic. After all, who loves giant multinational corporations? But when we clicked on “Myth vs. Reality,” the illusion fell apart with the jaw-dropping claim that “despite the portrayal in the media, there is no documented evidence that under-vaccinated children pose any risk to others.”

Wow. People have truly forgotten about our relatively recent pre-vaccination past in which huge numbers of children died. Indeed, children around the world are still dying from under-vaccination. The nonprofit Population Reference Bureau reports, “Each year, about one in five children who dies before his or her fifth birthday dies from a vaccine-preventable disease. Measles alone kills more children worldwide each year than HIV/AIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, traffic accidents, or drowning.”

Cemeteries in Maine and elsewhere are full of tiny children’s tombstones from the pre-vaccine past. Polio peaked in the U.S. in 1952, causing over 3,000 deaths and 21,000 cases of paralysis. The modern polio vaccine was announced in 1953, and by 1961 only 161 cases of polio were recorded in the U.S. Recently, Maine’s low whooping cough vaccination rates appear to be giving the bacterium a playground to mutate, infecting even vaccinated people.

Facts about Public Law 154:

1. Public Law 154 provides more flexibility for medical exemptions. Medical exemptions can now be given by licensed physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. These medical professionals are free to decide what qualifies for a medical exemption. Before this law, they had to adhere to strict criteria determined by the state.

2. There are different requirements for children entering day care or preschool versus entering kindergarten. But the general required vaccinations are the time-tested ones against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, meningitis, and chicken pox. Vaccines for flu and HPV are not required.

3. The law allows for spacing out vaccines as appropriately determined with a licensed medical provider. Although no reputable studies show that the recommended simultaneous vaccinations, and schedules, cause extra problems in children with healthy immune systems, guardians can request that their medical provider space out a child’s vaccination schedule. There are still milestones for vaccinations, based on age for day care, and by grade for K-12 (K, seventh, and twelfth). But between those milestones there is room to spread out vaccines as much as necessary. If a child has additional medical factors, a medical exemption can be used.

4. What about Big Pharma? Sure, these corporations are profit-motivated, but when compared to other types of medications, vaccines are a small part. Global pharmaceutical revenue is expected to be about $1.3 trillion in 2020, and only about 4.6 percent of that will come from vaccines.

5. No reputable scientific studies bear out the idea that vaccines are riskier than not vaccinating. Most negative reactions are minor — slight swelling or bruising — and the World Health Organization (WHO) writes: “More serious adverse [vaccine] events occur rarely (on the order of one per thousands to one per millions of doses).”

The grassroots group Suit Up Maine has great information about the new law at suitupmaine.org/vaccine-guide. For general information about vaccines, we highly recommend the WHO’s vaccinesafetynet.org.

We don’t like depending on giant for-profit corporations for our health care. But the way to address the problem of Big Pharma is regulation, transparency and a nonprofit health care system. Vaccinations have transformed the landscape, creating some of the greatest improvements in public health and children’s life expectancy of the past century. Let’s not go back in time. Please vote “no” on 1.