New York City

Push to End Religious Vaccine Exemptions in New York Amid Measles Outbreak

What to Know

  • Rockland County officials were in Albany Monday to help a push a bill in the state Legislature that would end all non-medical exemptions
  • This plea comes as the county continues to grapple with a mass measles outbreak
  • Measles cases in the United States has climbed to its highest level in 25 years; The disease was previously considered eradicated in the US

Rockland County officials joined New York lawmakers in Albany Monday morning to help a push a bill in the state Legislature that would end all non-medical exemptions for required vaccines for all children attending school in the state.

This plea comes as the county and state continues to grapple with a mass measles outbreak.

Measles cases in the United States has climbed to its highest level in 25 years. The disease was previously considered eradicated in the country.

“It seems like when we eradicated the measles, we not only eradicated the measles, but the memory of the measles and the fact that before vaccination was available, nearly 500 children died each year, 50,000 hospitalizations,” Democratic Sen. David Carlucci, who was among those on hand to introduce the bill, said. “Thousands of people left brain damage each year because of the measles.”

Carlucci said that vaccination hesitancy is threatening attempts to bring the outbreak under control.

“We have to move forward with legislation to be an example for other states to follow, so we can once and for all eradicate, or once again eradicate, once and for all, the measles from New York state and from the United States,” he said.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day, a Republican, said the spread of “misinformation and junk science” is part of the problem health officials have been encountering when it comes to urging residents to get vaccinated.

“Vaccinations are safe. The theories that we’ve been hearing from anti-vaxxers have been debunked numerous times and it is necessary for all the physically-able to receive the vaccination,” Day said, adding that vaccination “is the only way to protect the health of those who are unable to receive the lifesaving benefits — these are our infants, our immunocompromised and those with legitimate medical issues. Those are the folks who cannot get the immunizations.”

According to Day the federal government must address the outbreak and take immediate action.

“Our federal government must take action nationally to increase vaccination rates either through congressional action or executive order," Day said. "This needs to be done. Not tomorrow. Not in a week. Not in a month and not in a year. It must be done immediately. The numbers are gaining strength.”

Rockland County Commissioner of Health Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said though the county has made great strides in trying to contain the spread of the measles, including through information and vaccine workshops, "yet this disease continues to spread and endanger the lives of children and adults in our community."

"That is why I am here today advocating for the elimination of religious exemptions as the next logical step in protecting the public health," she said.

Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman, who co-sponsored the bill, said "we have to get a grip on the disease. We have to put science ahead of science fiction."

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the lead sponsor of the proposed legilsation in the Assembly, said if passed, the bill would save lives. 

Measles continues to spread in the United States, with 704 cases reported so far this year in 22 states as of Monday. The total number of cases already eclipsed the total for any full year since 1994, when 963 cases were reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this year's count includes 44 people who caught the disease while traveling in another country. Some of them triggered U.S. outbreaks, mostly among unvaccinated people. That includes the largest outbreaks, in Orthodox Jewish communities in and around New York City.

Three-quarters of those who caught the extremely contagious disease are children or teenagers.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, and symptoms include rash, high fever, cough and red, watery eyes. According to the CDC, the current outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from countries like Israel, the Ukraine and the Phillippines. All of those nations have large current outbreaks.

Individuals are considered protected or immune to measles if they were born before 1957, have received two doses of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, have had measles, or have a lab test confirming immunity.

To prevent the spread of illness, the health officials advise individuals who may have been exposed and who have symptoms consistent with measles to contact their health care provider, a local clinic, or a local emergency department before going for care to prevent others from being exposed to the illness.

Earlier this month, a state judge issued a preliminary injunction against a Rockland County emergency order banning children from public places unless they've been vaccinated against measles. Civil rights lawyer Michael Sussman called the order "arbitrary and capricious."

The county had enacted the 30-day emergency order to fight a measles outbreak that has infected more than 166 people since October. Rockland's outbreak has most heavily affected Orthodox Jewish communities.

New York City has also been battling a measles outbreak, prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to declare a public health emergency early April.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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