Amid measles outbreak, New York ends religious exemptions for vaccines

Amid an ongoing measles outbreak, New York is requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated, even if parents have religious objections.Gov. Andrew Cuomo s...

Posted: Jun 14, 2019 5:44 AM

Amid an ongoing measles outbreak, New York is requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated, even if parents have religious objections.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Thursday that removes nonmedical exemptions from school vaccination requirements. The law goes into effect immediately, his office said.

The move, which comes despite opposition from anti-vaccination activists and religious freedom advocates, puts New York alongside other states that do not allow nonmedical exemptions: California, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maine.

"The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe. This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis," Cuomo said in a statement Thursday.

"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," he said.

Cuomo signed the bill immediately after the Legislature passed it; the Senate voted 36-26 and the Assembly voted 77-53. The bills were introduced in January.

"We are dealing with a public health emergency that requires immediate action," state Sen. Brad Hoylman, sponsor of the Senate bill, said during the vote.

New York has become the epicenter of a measles outbreak in the United States that is now in its ninth month. More than 800 people in New York have become sick, and New Yorkers have infected people in four other states.

This year, 1,022 measles cases have been confirmed in 28 states, marking the greatest number of cases reported in the country since 1992 and since the measles virus was declared eliminated in the country in 2000, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The states that have reported cases to the 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.

Regarding the new legislation, "this is a great step forward in protecting the public health here in New York," Ed Day, Rockland County executive, said in a written statement. His county is among those with the highest number of measles cases in the state.

"This law should lead to a substantial increase in vaccination rates and to improved protection of our most vulnerable residents; infants, the immunocompromised and those who have legitimate medical issues. With Rockland being an epicenter of the current measles outbreak, we greatly appreciate that our advocacy and local efforts were heard and acknowledged," he said.

Most of the cases in New York have been in Orthodox Jewish communities In Brooklyn and Queens with low vaccination rates.

Health authorities in New York say they've faced formidable challenges to quell the outbreak: anti-vaxers who specifically targeted the state's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, bombarding them with lies that vaccines cause autism.

"We are now countering not only the vector of the measles virus, but we're countering the vector of the anti-vaxers, and that message -- that insidious message -- is just as challenging as the most contagious virus on the face of the earth," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

New York health authorities face an additional challenge: ultra-Orthodox Jews travel frequently to Israel and Europe, where there have been more than 100,000 measles cases this year.

When asked whether she thought the outbreak would end by the fall in order to keep the country's measles elimination status intact, Barbot didn't answer.

"We are working every day, day and night, to ensure that we get the message out that vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to keep families and communities safe," she said.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3250649

Reported Deaths: 38817
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles109171215897
San Bernardino2693141746
Riverside2684903003
Orange2403142839
San Diego2314812465
Santa Clara997021314
Kern91119591
Fresno866731084
Sacramento850621194
Alameda72024929
Ventura67526546
San Joaquin60545844
Contra Costa55593492
Stanislaus49690808
Tulare43574542
Monterey38434261
San Mateo34738356
San Francisco30874296
Santa Barbara27321267
Solano27317121
Imperial25812514
Merced25743332
Sonoma25536254
Kings20223161
Placer18129192
San Luis Obispo17151161
Madera14130175
Santa Cruz13088136
Marin12067166
Yolo11361147
Shasta10212138
Butte9943136
El Dorado824566
Napa814552
Sutter812984
Lassen530916
San Benito525152
Yuba522730
Tehama456446
Tuolumne351241
Nevada341073
Mendocino332236
Amador311333
Lake274832
Humboldt267227
Glenn203422
Colusa19079
Calaveras172323
Siskiyou150413
Mono11574
Inyo105329
Del Norte8783
Plumas6185
Modoc3974
Mariposa3585
Trinity3065
Sierra950
Alpine740
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