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New York ends religious exemption for vaccines


A woman receives a measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., earlier this month. Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig

New York ends religious exemption for vaccines

New York eliminated an religious exemption to the state’s vaccination requirements for schoolchildren on Thursday amid the nation’s worst measles outbreak in decades. The Democratic-majority state Senate and Assembly voted to repeal the exemption, which allowed parents who enroll their children in schools to cite religious beliefs as their motivation for not vaccinating. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the bill into law just minutes after the final vote. The law, which took effect immediately, gives unvaccinated students up to 30 days after they enter a school to show they have had the first dose of each required immunization.

Most of this year’s reported cases of measles have been in New York City, where there have been 588 confirmed cases since September 2018, mostly in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Christian parents who used the exemption cited the Bible, which says that God primarily entrusts children to their parents, not the government. Buddhist and Shinto families said the vaccines interfered with the natural course of an illness. Some Orthodox Jewish parents had reacted to unfounded claims about the origins of some of the vaccines published in a “vaccine safety” booklet that was widely distributed in their community.

“I understand freedom of religion,” Cuomo said on Wednesday. “I have heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”

Religious exemptions for vaccines are still allowed in 45 states, though lawmakers in several have introduced legislation to eliminate the waiver.


Kiley Crossland Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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