New York State has ended its longtime religious exemption for vaccinations. It is a response to the nation’s most significant measles outbreak in more than 25 years — one in which 90% of measles cases in the United States are in New York, most in Brooklyn, Queens and Rockland County.
The legislation was supported overwhelmingly by the Assembly and Senate and signed quickly by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Vaccines save lives. We are in the midst of a measles epidemic which is completely preventable given proper immunizations,”said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester in a press release. “The fact that New York State has the overwhelming majority of these measles cases is shameful, and we must step up to protect New Yorkers’ health.”

That doesn’t mean the law was unanimously supported. Hundreds of people protested in Albany saying it was an assault on religious freedom, according to news reports.

Most of the cases in New York are in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1,022 cases of measles in 28 states. The states that reportedcases to CDC as of June 6 are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
As of June 10, there have been 588 confirmed cases in New York City and 334 confirmed cases of measles elsewhere in New York State, including 266 in Rockland County, 43 in Orange County, 18 in Westchester County, 7 in Sullivan County, 1 in Suffolk County and 1 in Greene County.
“This is a great step forward in protecting the public health here in New York. This law should lead to a substantial increase in vaccination rates and to improved protection of our most vulnerable residents; infants, the immunocompromised and those who have legitimate medical issues,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day said Thursday after the legislation was signed. “With Rockland being an epicenter of the current measles outbreak, we greatly appreciate that our advocacy and local efforts were heard and acknowledged. I thank the sponsors of this bill, our local State Representatives who worked to see it passed and Governor Cuomo for understanding it’s importance and signing it so quickly.”
When Rockland first declared a state of emergency (overturned after anti-vaxxers challenged it in court) March 26, the county was up to 153 confirmed measles cases in the six month-old outbreak. Another 113 cases have been confirmed in the past 12 weeks. County officials said they knew there were far more cases than had been reported.
SEE: Rockland Renews Measles State Of Emergency
Rockland Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, who has led the local effort to track and contain the 8-month outbreak there, said the effects so far have included multiple hospitalizations including ICU admissions and even a premature birth.
“This is about public safety and following science. Vaccines save lives, and not one single organized religion denounces vaccines,” said state Sen. David Carlucci, one of the bill’s sponsors who represents Rockland County and part of Westchester. “We cannot allow misinformation based on junk science to fuel anti-vaccine sentiment. This is why the State must also develop a long term vaccine awareness campaign to educate low vaccination communities before outbreaks like this happen.”
The only way to stop the outbreak of measles – a dangerous and sometimes fatal disease – is to make sure as many children as possible are vaccinated, said Dr. Linda P. Fried, Dean of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
“This is a reminder of the challenges we face in this age, as we grapple with social media’s role in shaping public opinion during a health crisis,” said Senator Kevin Thomas of Nassau County. “It is our responsibility as lawmakers to ensure that we take responsible action, not only to combat misinformation, but to protect the health and well-being of all New Yorkers.”