Antivaxxers in Maine have a slogan: "Reject Big Pharma." Lev Facher at STAT:
But the referendum that Maine voters will decide on Tuesday, known as Question 1, has little to do with drug prices. Instead, approval would overturn a 2019 law that requires all schoolchildren to receive vaccinations unless granted an exemption by a doctor. The advertisements, meanwhile, are funded in large part not by drug pricing activists but by a nationwide network of anti-vaccine groups.
The media blitz marks a new effort by anti-vaccine activists to win new adherents, and to do so by co-opting public anger toward pharmaceutical companies — not just over exorbitant drug prices but because of the industry’s role in the opioid crisis, which has hit Maine hard.
A recent ad barrage from the group zeroes in on Merck, highlighting the roughly $6 billion in revenue the company drew from vaccines during the first nine months of last year. While vaccine sales total billions of dollars, however, pharmaceutical companies’ vaccine profit margins are typically far smaller than for other drugs.
Nonetheless, the messaging has helped to generate a broad coalition of support for repealing the vaccine mandate. Backers of the repeal include five Republican state lawmakers, a University of Maine professor, and at least 11 local chiropractors.
But the group’s biggest contribution came from half a continent away: a $50,000 check from the Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota group whose anti-vaccine rhetoric helped fuel a measles outbreak in Minneapolis in 2017.
Despite the broad public health consensus about the benefits of mandating vaccinations, the issue in Maine has become starkly partisan.
When Maine’s legislature passed the law last year, nearly every Democrat supported the legislation, while all but four Republicans opposed it.