The state of New York, which has experienced a large outbreak of measles, will no longer allow religious exemptions for vaccines.
Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law new legislation that was passed in both the Senate and the Assembly which will remove religious belief as an acceptable reason to avoid vaccination.
The new legislation comes after New York faced its largest measles outbreak in decades. Between October and late February, more than 200 people were found to be sick with measles. Measles is highly contagious and can be a life-threatening disease. In the first decade of reporting on the disease in the United States, beginning in 1912, 6,000 measles-related deaths were recorded each year.
In a statement, State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “We’re putting science ahead of misinformation about vaccines and standing up for the rights of immunocompromised children and adults, pregnant women and infants who can’t be vaccinated through no fault of their own.”
Cuomo himself said in a statement, “The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe. 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.”
The law allows up to 30 days for unvaccinated students show they have begun receiving their required immunizations.
While all states allow for medical exemptions for otherwise required vaccines for students, many also grant parents the right to exempt their children from the vaccines for religious reasons.
As measles cases within the last several months reach their highest levels since 1992, many states are reevaluating their exception allowances.
Many of New York's cases have come out of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in Brooklyn. 74% of the cases have come out of the Williamsburg neighborhood.
“I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated,” Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D), the bill’s sponsor, told reporters. “If you choose to not vaccinate your child, therefore potentially endangering other children … then you’re the one choosing not to send your children to school.”
California, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Maine are other states which have also outlawed non-medical exemptions for vaccines. Several other states are also considering outlawing non-medical exemptions as measles outbreaks occur across the country.
I am happy to see some lawmakers value science over antiquated religious dogma. I hope that this kind of thinking can spread to other areas of legislation as well. One example that comes to mind is when Christian lawmakers deny climate change.