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Ending Vaccine Exemptions is ‘Legally Questionable,’ Cuomo Says

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Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that proposed legislation to end the ability of parents and guardians to fight requirements that their children are vaccinated for religious reasons is "legally questionable." Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that proposed legislation to end the ability of parents and guardians to fight requirements that their children are vaccinated for religious reasons is “legally questionable.”

Mr. Cuomo, 61, said during various interviews last week that the recent increase in measles diagnoses causes grave concern for the health of the general public, but added that voiding the religious exemption to educational vaccination requirements would likely result in a legal challenge, on first amendment grounds.

The proposed piece of legislation has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the New York state legislature. Current New York state law lets parents exempt their children from being vaccinated for various medical reasons.

Supporters of the legislation wish to eliminate religious exemptions for vaccination requirements, citing the fact that the state of California repealed its exemption on personal and philosophical grounds in 2015.

Amid a slew of measles outbreaks nationwide, state lawmakers across the country are strongly considering similar legislation.

Parents lawyers in Brooklyn threatened last week to file suit against New York City, following a mandatory vaccination order.

City officials, however, said that they hope that increased pressure on the majority-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and various types of community outreach will solve the outbreak of measles.

“The measles vaccine is highly effective,” Dr. Herminia Palacio, New York’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services said last Wednesday. “Measles is highly contagious. That combination means this is the right time for this measure.”

Mrs. Palacio announced the vaccination order last week at an event with New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, and said that fines up to $1,000 will be leveled against community residents if they don’t comply.

Michael Sussman, a local civil rights attorney, said that the vaccination order is an “overreach of authority,” and threatened to file a lawsuit.

Mr. Sussman previously represented a group of parents in Rockland County who challenged that county’s order to get their children vaccinated — and the county’s order banning children who are not vaccinated from being in public indoor spaces. A judge at the state level sided with Mr. Sussman and the parents who he represented two weeks ago and issued a preliminary injunction against the county.

“This is a public health emergency,” Mr. de Blasio said recently. “And the reason the city government is empowered in a public health emergency is to save lives.”

Officials say they will interview Williamsburg residents who have already been diagnosed with measles as well as everyone else who they came in contact with.

“These are skills that we practice every day,” said Mrs. Palacio. “It’s not just that they know what questions to ask. They actually do know how to work with people. They have experience in gaining people’s trust.”

 

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