Anti-vaxxers took a big loss Thursday in the state at the center of the U.S.'s measles outbreak, when lawmakers in New York voted to completely do away with the religious exemption to vaccination requirements for schoolchildren.
The U.S. is currently experiencing its worst outbreak of measles since 1992, and New York is the epicenter: Of the 1,022 U.S. cases this year, the majority have happened in New York state. Many of those cases have happened in sections of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where there is an insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that resists vaccination on religious grounds.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation quickly after it passed on Thursday, saying it was necessary to protect kids in school.
"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," Cuomo said in a statement.
"The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe."
Protesters shouted “shame” (and curses) at Cuomo as he signed the bill, but the governor said the public’s health is at stake.
"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 said.
The legislation takes effect immediately, but it does give unvaccinated kids some time — 30 days after entering school — to get a first dose of the required vaccinations. States like California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi and Maine have also done away with religious exemptions. Lawmakers in New York also noted that some who were using the religious exemption might’ve been doing so out of discredited vaccine fears rather than any truly held religious belief.
“I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated,” said Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Dinowitz, who sponsored the bill, according to the Associated Press. “If you choose to not vaccinate your child, therefore potentially endangering other children … then you’re the one choosing not to send your children to school.”
Cover: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks about the $175.5 billion state budget during a news conference in the Red Room at the state Capitol Sunday, March, 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)