Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill that prohibits religious exemptions to vaccination requirements.
The New York State Assembly and Senate had just passed the measure in response to measles outbreaks in Brooklyn and Rockland County. As a result, parents are now unable to secure nonmedical exemptions to allow children who have not been immunized to attend school.
The bill passed in the state Assembly by a margin of 77 to 53. Among legislators, some railed at what they claim is infringement on parents’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
“While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“The fact that New York state has the overwhelming majority of these measles cases is shameful, and we must step up to protect New Yorkers’ health,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
“The point before us today is, should we allow people to exercise their religion as they see fit?” added Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, a Democrat from Greenburgh in Westchester County.
“We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, the legislation’s sponsor. “The atrocious peddlers of junk science and fraudulent medicine who we know as anti-vaxxers have spent years sowing unwarranted doubt and fear, but it is time for legislators to confront them head-on.”
“Although the state can claim high immunization rates overall, preventable diseases like measles remain a public health threat when administrative loopholes allow children to go unvaccinated, carrying the potential to harm communities — and especially our most vulnerable residents,” noted Dr. Howard Zucker, the commissioner of the state Department of Health.
Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that from January 1 to June 13, 2019, 1,044 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 28 states. “This is an increase of 22 cases from the previous week. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.”
The states that have reported cases to CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
“A small number of other states including California, Mississippi and Arizona have already passed laws banning vaccine exemptions on religious grounds. (Arizona law currently allows for a parent to opt a child out of mandatory vaccinations because of “personal beliefs,” but not on religious grounds,” NPR reported. “In New York, about 96% of students have been immunized against measles, mumps and rubella, yet “a measles outbreak continues to affect communities in several parts of the state where the rate is lower,” according to state health officials.”
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