On June 13, 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation (S.2994A/A.2371), sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, removing non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements for children. The United States is currently experiencing the worst outbreak of measles in more than 25 years, with outbreaks in pockets of New York primarily driving the crisis. As a result of non-medical vaccination exemptions, many communities across New York have unacceptably low rates of vaccination, and those unvaccinated children can often attend school where they may spread the disease to other unvaccinated students. This new law will help protect the public amid this ongoing outbreak.
“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe. 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,” Governor Cuomo said. “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.”
Rabbi Aaron Glatt, Chairman of Medicine at South Nassau, and Clinical Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has been promoting this position for many years.
Senator Brad Hoylman said, “Today, New York is sending a strong message to people across our state 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 Governor Cuomo for signing this vital legislation into law and thank Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Senate Health Chair Rivera, Assembly Speaker Heastie, and Assemblymember Dinowitz for their support.”
Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz 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. 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, to the Governor for his quick action on enacting the bill into law, and all the advocates who fought for this important public health policy change.”
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Governor Cuomo’s leadership has continually raised the standard of public health and well-being across New York State. Immunizations give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases and are safe and effective. The efforts taken today stand in stark contrast to the disturbing anti-vaccination trends nationwide and underscore New York’s commitment to protecting public health.”
Although the State can claim high immunization rates overall, preventable diseases like measles remain a public health threat when administrative loopholes allow children to go unvaccinated, carrying the potential to harm communities—and especially our most vulnerable residents—throughout the state. Statewide, 96% of school-age children have been inoculated against measles, mumps and rubella, with the “MMR” vaccine, but a measles outbreak continues to affect communities in several parts of the state where the rate is lower. New York State currently allows both medical and religious exemptions to the MMR and other vaccines for students attending school.
5TJT Columnist Rabbi Yitzie Ross has been taking a strong stand on this issue.
Ongoing Department of Health Actions
Since October 1, 2018, the Department of Health has worked closely with local officials to launch an unprecedented public health response to the current measles outbreak—the largest in New York State since 1991. School and daycare exclusions issued by the Department of Health have proven effective in ensuring parents get their children vaccinated with MMR. The Department of Health’s ongoing efforts, including messaging about the importance of vaccinations in several languages, have resulted in a drastic uptick in vaccinations. Since the measles outbreak began last fall, more than 49,000 doses of the MMR vaccination have been administered in Rockland, Orange and Westchester Counties.
Department of Health leadership, including Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, continue to meet with community leaders in the impacted areas in order to promote greater education and stem misinformation surrounding the safety of vaccinations.