Science Prevails as Dinowitz Vaccine Bill Passes Legislature

As New York’s measles outbreak approaches one thousand confirmed cases, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator Brad Hoylman are poised to eliminate non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements

Albany, NY – After months of increasingly urgent demands from the medical community and families of immuno-compromised children for action to combat the ongoing measles outbreak, controversial legislation from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator Brad Hoylman appears to be on the precipice of becoming state law. On Thursday, the Assembly and State Senate both approved a measure which would repeal all non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements. The legislation follows California’s lead, who enacted a similar repeal of non-medical exemptions after a measles outbreak in 2015 and saw their statewide vaccination rates rise almost 5% in just three years. Once signed, New York would become the fifth state to ban all non-medical exemptions joining California, Mississippi, West Virginia, and most recently Maine.

The non-medical exemption repeal effort in New York has been ongoing since 2015, but was infused with new urgency as New York has become the epicenter of the largest measles outbreak in the United States since 1992. Since the current outbreak began in September 2018, New York State has confirmed over 850 measles cases, predominantly in New York City and Rockland County – accounting for the vast majority of the 1,022 confirmed measles cases nationwide (through June 6). While the United States officially eliminated measles in 2000, the recent outbreak has put that status in jeopardy and reignited a bitter fight over the efficacy of modern medicine between anti-vaxxers and public health experts.

While there is ardent opposition to vaccination efforts among a small group of anti-vaxxers, the legislation has 84% support among all New Yorkers according to a recent Siena College poll. Joining the vast majority of New Yorkers in their support are numerous medical and health policy organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, New York State Academy of Family Physicians, Medical Society for the State of New York, March of Dimes, Kids v. Cancer, and many more.

Governor Cuomo has publicly stated that he will sign the bill if it passes both legislative chambers and is expected to do so quickly.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: “I am incredibly proud that science has won with the passage of this bill. We should be taking medical advice from medical professionals, not strangers on the internet spreading pseudo-science misinformation. This will not be the end of our efforts to combat the ongoing measles outbreak, but it is an important step.

The vitriolic language coming from those in the gallery who opposed the bill highlights the depths to which the rhetoric around this conversation has fallen. Those of us who have been advocating for increased vaccination have frequently been on the receiving end of their vitriol for many months, but now it has been laid bare in their breach of decorum. I hope that we can move forward from here, with level heads, and work together to protect the health of New Yorkers – particularly those with compromised immune systems and those who are too young to be vaccinated. Thank you to Speaker Carl Heastie for his leadership in helping steward this legislation through the Assembly, to Senator Hoylman for leading the charge in the State Senate, and to all the advocates who fought for this important public health policy change.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WF-Manhattan) said: “Today, the legislature is sending a strong message to New Yorkers that vaccines are safe and effective. 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. With our actions today, we can help avoid future outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles. I’m exceedingly grateful to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, my Assembly co-sponsor Jeffrey Dinowitz, and my Senate colleagues for their support of our legislation ending non-medical exemptions for vaccinations in New York.”

Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester) co-sponsors the bill and said: “Ending non-medical vaccine exemptions will get more people vaccinated and help stop the spread of the Measles. This is about public safety and following science. Vaccines save lives, and not one single organized religion denounces vaccines. We cannot allow misinformation based on junk science to fuel anti-vaccine sentiment. This is the right step forward."

“As a member of the Assembly Health Committee, I am responsible for recognizing and supporting legislation that is in the best interest of the people of New York State. Immunizations are essential in preventing the outbreak of harmful viruses and keeping our families healthy and safe,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Chair of the Committee on Children and Families. “While I believe in protecting the First Amendment right to freely practice one’s religion and in personal choice, an individual’s rights must be balanced with a public responsibility to protect the health of the entire population. Measles is highly contagious. When families refuse vaccinations for their children without a medical basis, they increase the risk of disease for those children and others with compromised immune systems, including pregnant women, and infants too young to be vaccinated. All children have a right to be healthy and not have their young lives put in danger.”

“We applaud the Legislature for taking action to assure that medical contraindications are the only legal reasons to be exempted from New York’s vaccine mandate requirements” stated Art Fougner, President of the Medical Society of the State of New York. “In particular, we thank Senator Hoylman and Assemblyman Dinowitz for their sustained advocacy. It is critically important to protect those cannot be vaccinated – either because they are allergic to certain ingredients, have an immune system deficiency resulting from cancer, HIV or other disease, or the women who are pregnant. The current measles outbreak clearly demonstrates that community herd immunity has broken down. We also thank Governor Cuomo for his comments of support for this bill and look forward to his quick signature.”

“As a pediatrician, representing more than 5,000 pediatricians across New York, we thank Assemblyman Dinowitz and Senator Hoylman for being such constant and strong partners in delivering this important protection for our children and families,” said Warren Seigel, MD, FAAP, Chair of NYS American Academy of Pediatrics. “Immunization is a medical intervention protecting infants, young children, and adolescents, as well as adults. As a medical intervention, decisions regarding immunization should be based solely on medical criteria. The children of New York thank you for working to help keep them safe from preventable disease,” he added.

“Kids v Cancer and the pediatric cancer community applaud New York State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and the members of the Health Committee of the New York State Assembly who voted today to require children who attend school to be vaccinated unless they have medical exemptions,” said Nancy Goodman, Executive Director of Kids v. Cancer. “Children with cancer and pediatric cancer survivors cannot go to school or to any other public places when they are immunocompromised. They must stay home, isolated. For these children and young adults, a case of the measles is life threatening. They depend entirely on others being vaccinated so that herd immunity is reached and they can be safe.”

“This week, reported measles cases exceeded 1,000 in the first six months of 2019 – the highest number in 27 years,” said Marc Price DO, President of the NYS Academy of Family Physicians. “With the overwhelming majority of cases here, New York must take swift, decisive action and we commend the Assembly for their passage of legislation to remove non-medical exemptions from vaccine requirements for school and day care attendance. We also thank Governor Cuomo for his commitment to sign the bill into law to protect all children and public health.”

March of Dimes Chief Medical and Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said: “March of Dimes welcomes today’s historic vote in the New York State Legislature that eliminates religious exemptions to vaccine-preventable diseases, ensuring that the health and well-being of children, pregnant women and all Americans are protected. Today’s vote in Albany will not only help protect the health of every New Yorker, but millions of people well outside the boundaries of the state. This may be the single action that has prevented this outbreak from risking our nation’s status with the World Health Organization as a country that eliminated measles.

Outbreaks of highly infectious diseases like measles illustrate the need for all eligible people to be fully vaccinated on time. The current public health crisis, in which we are seeing the highest level of measles cases in 25 years, is alarming, costly and avoidable.

We commend lawmakers in the New York State Assembly and Senate for joining California, Mississippi and West Virginia as the fourth state in the country to eliminate non-medical exemptions. In doing so, they have set a new standard that state governments across the country must emulate.

March of Dimes has a long history of supporting vaccines and has been advocating in Albany on this issue for the past several years. We will continue to push for similar state-level legislation that eliminates non-medical exemptions and creates community-level immunity that is so vital to everyone.”