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Policy
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ended religious exemptions by amending the provision in NY A02371, to combat rising anti-vaccination communities. Since January 1st of this year, there have been 1,077 cases of measles in 28 states, an increase from 372 from 2018, after the disease was declared eliminated from the US in 2000. The largest outbreaks were found in New York were found in Orthodox Jewish communities who are believed to have traveled to Israel where a current outbreak is occurring, in addition to Butte County, CA, and Portland Oregon. The majority of those infected were individuals who had yet to be vaccinated, either due to being younger than the CDC recommended vaccination age of 12 -15 months old or were not given vaccinations by the requests of their parents or guardians. New York joins Washington, Maine and California in setting limitations to those opposing vaccines, Mississippi and West Virginia do not permit religious exemptions.

The law takes effect immediately but gives unvaccinated students up to 30 days after entering a school to provide documentation of at least starting their immunization sequence. The law however, does not change in exempting children who can not have vaccines for medical reasons, nor are there any legal repercussions should a parent fail to vaccinate a child.

Analysis
While this policy change has been created in good faith, critics combat this mandate with protections of religious and moral freedoms. There are 45 other states that still having similar exemptions, allowing parents to skip vaccinations. With such allowances available in other states, anti-vaccination parents are considering leaving New York and the other four states setting limitations.

Advocates for this law stress that religious beliefs and fears about vaccines should not overshadow scientific evidence. Those who also feel as though this mandate infringes upon their rights should recall the 1905 Supreme Court ruling that provided states the right to enforce compulsory vaccinations laws. More recently, a 2018 California case upheld the law’s removal of exemptions noting “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death”.

By strengthening mandates, vaccinations are proven to increase and therefore protect. Supporters for the law also note that while the law is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. There are no legal sanctions for lack of compliance with the law. Additionally, some feel the focus should be shifted from reducing exemptions to tightening the medical exemption process, ensuring the waivers that are given are medically appropriate and true.

Center for Disease Control

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Photo by Ani Kolleshi

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