New York Gets Rid of Religious Exemptions for Vaccines

Photo: Hans Pennink/AP

New York’s legislature removed religious exemptions for vaccines today amid concerns about a measles outbreak, according to the New York Times.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, and called the outbreak a public health emergency.

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“While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health,” Cuomo said in a statement. He said the law “will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks.”

Not everyone supported the bill, including the hundreds of protesters who showed up in Albany as it was being passed. Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican, called the law “an attack on people’s First Amendment rights.”

“It’s still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life,” Montesano said, according to the Times.

Others supported the bill because of the impact of preventable diseases in their own communities. Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat, pointed to the 266 confirmed cases of measles in Rockland County.

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“Our job is not just to react to epidemics,” Zebrowski said in the state assembly, according to the Times. “Our job as legislators is to prevent epidemics.”

Zebrowski also said his own one-year-old daughter has had to have her vaccines accelerated because of the epidemic.

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The outbreak has been particularly intense in the New York Orthodox Jewish community, where many parents have decided to not vaccinate their children.

Protesters were not pleased by the result, to put it lightly.

From the Times:

As soon the vote count was called, shouts of “shame” — and more colorful invective — erupted from the Assembly gallery, where opponents had gathered to watch the proceedings. Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry attempted to restore order, but the screams continued; unable to stop the shouting, Mr. Aubry took the chamber into recess as furious opponents headed into Capitol hallways.

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The measles outbreak reaches far beyond New York. There have been 1,000 confirmed cases across 28 states, making it the biggest outbreak since 1992.

Only a few other states—California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Maine—have also banned religious exemptions for vaccines.

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There’s currently another bill pending that would allow children to ask for vaccines even if their parents disapprove, an issue that has come to light as the kids of anti-vaxxers grow up.

Last year, 26,217 students in New York state used religious exemptions, according to the State Department of Health.

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State Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the bill, said it would help fight back against online misinformation about vaccines.

“There is a public health crisis underway and New York is the epicenter,” Hoylman said, according to the Times. “And numbers continue to grow because well-intentioned parents are being misinformed by anti-vax conspiracy theorists. And it’s part of the state’s responsibility to make sure everyone is safe in schools and day care centers.”

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