New York just became the latest state to end religious exemptions for vaccines, after the CDC confirmed more than 1,000 cases of measles — the highest number in decades and an increase of more than 200 confirmed cases in just one month — across the country in 2019.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on Thursday, citing public health as his primary concern. “The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to keep our children safe,” Cuomo said in a statement. “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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports measles outbreaks in 28 states, the majority of which stem from New York. As of this week, Rockland County has 266 confirmed cases of measles, while New York City has 588. The numbers are exceptionally high in ultra-Orthodox communities, NPR reports. The NY State Department of Health reports that more than 26,000 students had religious exemptions during the 2017-2018 school year.
New York now joins a handful of states that ban religious exemptions for vaccines, including California, West Virginia, Maine, and Mississippi. Earlier this year, a New York federal judge infuriated some Rockland County parents by prohibiting dozens of unvaccinated kids from attending school. Critics argued the decision violated their religious rights, which is an argument we can expect to see all over the state in the coming days.
Americans are becoming hotly divided over the vaccination debate in recent months. While some argue they feel states are infringing on their rights to make decisions for their children, others have reported increased feelings of anxiety as they worry about going outside with their children, who are too young for certain vaccines, such as MMR.
Recently, actress Jessica Biel sparked a firestorm when she appeared at the California State Capitol to discuss proposed bill #SB-276, which would make it more difficult for families to get medical exemptions for vaccinations. Biel has since clarified that while she is for vaccinations, she also believes medical practitioners and patients should be able to make vaccination decisions without state interference. (It’s important to note that #SB-276 doesn’t ban all medical exemptions; instead, it provides a more streamlined system for medical professionals to fill out a “standardized medical exemption request form” that “the State Public Health Officer or the public health officer’s designee” would approve or deny, according to the bill’s text.)
While the debate won’t simmer down anytime soon, it’s great that state officials are making progress and taking firm steps to counter the spread of measles and other diseases in the United States. Vaccines work; it’s time to acknowledge the facts.