New York lawmakers introduce bill to end religious vaccine exemptions amid measles outbreak

New York lawmakers on Thursday called to end non-medical exemptions vaccinations for school-aged children amid an ongoing measles outbreak.

The proposed legislation is backed by a group of Democratic lawmakers who say they want to close the “personal belief loophole” which advocates for religious vaccine exemptions, The Journal News reported.

"The goal here is to push legislation to remove all non-medical exemptions for vaccination for children to go to school in New York state," State Sen. David Carlucci (D) said. "We've seen the spread of measles really spread like wildfire in communities where the vaccination rates are not high."

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Carlucci added that religious groups he'd spoken to do not bar people from receiving vaccines. 

"The religious communities that I've spoken to in no way prevent people from getting vaccinated," he said. "This (bill) would take any of that misconception out of the puzzle."

State Sen. Brad Hoylman echoed Carlucci, stating that there is no major religious group that advocates against vaccinations as part of its official doctrine.

"New York’s religious belief exemption is a personal belief loophole," Hoylman said. "According to experts, no major religious group advocates against vaccinations as a matter of official doctrine."

The lawmakers said only medical exemptions from vaccinations should be allowed.

Hoylman criticized the modern anti-vaccine movement, which has persisted despite scientific research debunking the myth that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to autism.

The bill is currently in committee in both the state Senate and Assembly, the newspaper noted.

If the legislation is signed into law, New York would become the fourth state that allows only medical exemptions for vaccinations.

California passed a similar law in 2015 when a measles outbreak hit California. Mississippi and West Virginia also only allow medical exemptions for vaccinations.

There have been more than 387 confirmed cases of measles in 15 different states between January 1 and March 28 of this year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

It is the second largest number of cases reported since the virus was declared eliminated in 2000.

There have been 259 confirmed cases of measles located in New York City as of April 3, according to the state.

There have been additional cases confirmed in Rockland County, which declared a state of emergency over the outbreak in March. According to The Journal News, there have been 425 confirmed measles cases in Brooklyn, Queens and Rockland County.