Fight Over Religious Vaccine Exemption for Measles Heats Up in Albany

According to the New York Health Department, the religious exemption law for measles vaccine has been on the books since 1968.

Fight Religious Vaccine Exemption for Measles

The fight heats up over measles vaccine from the streets of Williamsburg to the State Capitol in Albany. Lawmakers, local politicians, and anti-vaxers are preparing for a battle over the state’s rules that allow parents to keep their children unvaccinated on religious backgrounds.

New York state senators have proposed a bill to eliminate the religious exemption, which they believe is the key reason for the measles spread across the United States.

On Monday, Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, said at a press conference in Albany, “You have a First Amendment right to practice your own religion, but you do not have the right to endanger your children or worse other people’s children.”

The senator and his fellow supporters argue that a great number of unvaccinated children in Brooklyn and Rockland County has made fighting the current outbreak more difficult. Most of the children were not vaccinated on religious backgrounds.

According to the state health department, approximate 28 percent of kids in Rockland County and 14 percent were not vaccinated for measles.

On Monday, the CDC announced that, so far, there have been 704 measles cases across 22 states this year.

According to the State Health Department, the religious exemption law is on the books since 1968.

The senator’s proposed bill was introduced in January, which is in the Health Committee. It is unclear whether they have enough number of votes to pass the bill.

In the meantime, anti-vaxers are lining up to oppose the bill. They have planned a rally in Albany on May 14, where they are expected to speak against the proposed bill.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was sympathetic to opponents of mandatory vaccination after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the emergency order in Brooklyn.

Cuomo said, “It’s a serious public health concern; but it’s also a serious First Amendment issue and it is going to be a constitutional legal question. Do we have the right to society, government have the right to say; you must vaccinate your child because I’m afraid your child can affect my child?”

On Monday, Cuomo said he supported mandatory vaccination under the current circumstances. He said, “We’re in a world now, where if I sneeze, you catch a cold. Your health is not just your health. Your health is my health. I don’t think, in this case, the religious exemption is appropriate.”

Only three states do not allow religious exemptions and they are Mississippi, West Virginia and California. Since the outbreak, NYC has seen 423 measles cases as of Monday. Under its mandatory vaccination order, the city has so far fined 57 people for failing to get vaccinated and if the judge upholds the charges, each of them will face $1,000 fine. At least 29 people have been hospitalized, of which, including six in the intensive care unit. And 17 people had pneumonia as a measles complication.