New York state Senate set to advance bills to end religious exemptions for vaccines

New York state Senate set to advance bills to end religious exemptions for vaccines
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The New York state Senate is poised to advance legislation Thursday to end religious exemptions for vaccines and to raise awareness about the importance of immunizations as the state grapples with a rising number of measles cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that there have been 1,022 cases of measles in 28 states since January. Since September, there have been 588 confirmed cases in New York City and 336 elsewhere in the state.

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The diagnoses represent the most serious outbreak of the disease in more than 25 years. Most of these cases have involved members of the Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom cite religious exemptions to avoid the measles vaccine.

“Vaccines save lives. We are in the midst of a measles epidemic which is completely preventable given proper immunizations,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) 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. The legislation advanced by the Senate Majority will help save lives and ensure that preventable diseases do not become epidemics in our state.”

The state Senate, she said, will pass three bills that repeal New York’s religious exemption for vaccination requirements, order the state Department of Health to promote and maintain its vaccination awareness campaign and expand state law to recognize caregivers with lawful orders of custody as parents, giving tens of thousands of legal custodians the “appropriate health, immunization, and education responsibilities essential for caregiving.”

“The only way to stop the outbreak of measles — a dangerous and sometimes fatal disease — is to make sure as many children as possible are vaccinated,” said Dr. Linda P. Fried, dean of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

“The New York Senate’s passage of critical legislation to eliminate non-medical exemptions from childhood vaccination requirements is a vital step towards protecting all New Yorkers — including vulnerable children — from this grave public health emergency.”

Every state requires students to be vaccinated to enroll in school but allows exceptions for children who are too sick to receive inoculations or who have a weakened immune system. The New York bills do not limit the medical exemptions. 

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but the most recent outbreak has been exacerbated by anti-vaccine groups that are active in spreading misinformation.