June 17, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
New York State eliminated the religious exemption to vaccine requirements for school children last week in response to the ongoing measles outbreak.
Both the State Senate and Assembly voted on Thursday to repeal the exemption, which previously allowed parents to cite religious beliefs as a reason not to vaccinate their children prior to school enrollment.
The bill was signed by Adrew Governor Cuomo minutes after the vote and the law went into effect immediately.
“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe,” Cuomo said. “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. 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.”
Unvaccinated students will be given 30 days to provide documentation proving that they have had the first dose of each required vaccine.
The law will not affect children who have exemptions for medical reasons.
“Governor Cuomo’s leadership has continually raised the standard of public health and well-being across New York State,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “Immunizations give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases and are safe and effective. The efforts taken today stand in stark contrast to the disturbing anti-vaccination trends nationwide and underscore New York’s commitment to protecting public health.”
Hundreds of opponents of the new law protested outside the state’s Capitol building in Albany, reportedly calling the move an assault on religious freedoms.
“I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated,” Bronx Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, sponsor of the Assembly bill, told the Associated Press.
The measles outbreak, which began in October of last year, hit New York City, and Williamsburg in particular, hard. As of June 14, there have been 588 cases of measles confirmed citywide, with an overwhelming majority of the cases—74 percent—having occurred within five ZIP codes in the Williamsburg area.
To date, 11 schools, largely in the Williamsburg area, have been closed for failing to comply with the Commissioner’s emergency order, issued on April 9, which requires all people over the age of 6 months who live or work within the five Williamsburg ZIP codes to be vaccinated against measles.
Yeshiva Torah V’Yirah, located at 590 Bedford Ave., was shut down last week for the second time by the Department of Health for allowing unvaccinated children and staff on site.