New York Eliminates Religious Exemptions for Vaccinations Despite Protests from Anti-Vaxxer Groups

There is no scientific link between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

New York passed a bill Thursday that removes non-medical, namely religious, exemptions from school vaccination requirements amid one of the worst measles outbreaks the United States has faced in more than 25 years.

The legislation aims to protect the public from the ongoing measles outbreak and to prevent unvaccinated children from spreading disease to their fellow students. While 96 percent of New York school children have been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella with the “MMR” vaccine, the state continues to experience the measles outbreak in areas with lower vaccination rates.

“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill Thursday, said in a press release. “This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis.”

“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,” he added.

This year, the U.S. has confirmed more than 1,000 cases of measles, according to the Washington Post. The last time the country experienced that many was in 1992, with a reported 2,200 cases, according to the outlet.

Supporters of the bill have declared its passage a victory for science, and a step forward in avoiding similar outbreaks in the future.

“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,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Brad Hoylman. He added that the legislation sends “a strong message to people across our state that vaccines are safe and effective.”

“I am incredibly proud that science has won with the passage of this bill,” Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, another sponsor of the bill, added. “We should be taking medical advice from medical professionals, not strangers on the internet spreading pseudo-science misinformation.”

Hoylman also took to Twitter to express his excitement and gratitude that the bill had passed and shared the story of a young cancer survivor who could be at risk if around unvaccinated individuals.

“Whether her fellow NYer are vaccinated means the difference between whether she can live freely or is forced to risk her life,” he said.

In another tweet, he stated definitively: “Here in New York, we protect vulnerable kids and our community—and we reject misinformation and junk science.”

Opponents of the bill gathered outside of the Capitol before the vote in protest, the Post reported.

“People came to this country to get away from exactly this kind of stuff,” one opponent told the outlet, adding that he might consider moving his family out of New York if the bill passed.

Nonetheless, New York isn’t the only state to put a ban on non-medical exemptions.

California passed a bill in 2015 that requires school children to be immunized against 10 different diseases, including measles. The bill made California the third state after Mississippi and West Virginia to pass such a law, according to the LA Times.

Maine voted in favor of a bill that removed “religious exemptions from the state’s school vaccination law” in May, according to the Press Herald.

New York’s vote comes in the same week that actress Jessica Biel lobbied against a proposed California state bill that would limit medical exemptions without approval from a state public health officer.

On Thursday, Biel clarified her stance on vaccinations, saying on Instagram, “I am not against vaccinations — I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians.”

“My dearest friends have a child with a medical condition that warrants an exemption from vaccinations, and should this bill pass, it would greatly affect their family’s ability to care for their child in this state,” she continued. “That’s why I spoke to legislators and argued against this bill. Not because I don’t believe in vaccinations, but because I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what’s best for their patients and the ability to provide that treatment.”

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