Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz today announced passage of legislation that would prevent people from opting out of vaccinations for nonmedical reasons.
"Vaccines are proven tools in combatting communicable disease," said Speaker Heastie. "This is a public health issue and we have a responsibility to act on behalf of all our citizens. Because of the severity of the measles outbreak, especially in New York, we must take action to protect the individuals that are most at risk."
"New York is at the center of the worst measles outbreak in over a quarter of a century," said Assemblymember Dinowitz. "This outbreak has spread because misinformation and irresponsible rhetoric has scared people away from vaccinating their children. We need to end the nonmedical exemptions so preventable diseases will not spread in New York again."
In New York State, children are required to receive certain immunizations including poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, hepatitis B, pertussis, tetanus and varicella before being allowed to attend all levels of school from day care through high school. Under current New York State law, parents can opt their children out of these mandatory vaccinations using a religious or medical exemption. This legislation would remove the religious exemption from the law, requiring that all children who are medically able receive these necessary vaccinations (A.2371, Dinowitz).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sustaining a high vaccination rate among school children is vital to the prevention of disease outbreaks. The CDC advocates for a 95 percent vaccination rate in schools to maintain herd immunity and prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
The U.S. has been able to essentially eliminate certain diseases with the use of vaccines. In 2000, measles was considered one of those diseases eliminated from the U.S., however, because it is highly contagious it has returned in communities with lower vaccination rates. As of June 2019 there were approximately 1,000 cases of measles reported around the country, over 800 of which were reported in New York State alone- this is the highest number of cases in almost 25 years.
In April 2019, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the measles outbreak in New York a public health emergency, requiring unvaccinated individuals living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to receive the measles vaccine. Governor Cuomo has also advocated for eliminating nonmedical exemptions because of the severity of the outbreak.