On Thursday, June 13, New York State lawmakers voted to end religious exemptions for vaccines in the midst of one of the worst measles outbreaks in history. In doing so, the state joins a group of states that has outlawed religious exemptions including California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Maine.
New York, which has several insular Orthodox Jewish Communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, has been suffering a prolonged measles outbreak in a year when 1,000 measles cases have been recorded in 28 states, nearing numbers not seen since 1992, in which 2,000 people contracted the painful disease. In April of this year, New York City declared a public emergency due to all of the cases of the measles.
The Capitol was reportedly tense on Thursday as anti-vaccine activists shouted “shame” at lawmakers who narrowly voted to pass the bill. The bill needed 76 votes and got 77. One lawmaker, a Rockland County Democrat named Kenneth Zabrowski said that in his county (where 266 confirmed cases of measles have been reported) he has had to accelerate his own one-year-old daughter’s vaccination schedule. Still, anti-vaccine activists argued that their personal and religious freedoms were being infringed upon with the reversal of the old rule. When Governor Cuomo signed the bill, he said he was sympathetic to those freedoms, but had to protect public health.
New York is frequently referred to as an ‘epicenter’ of the measles outbreak not just due to the Orthodox community but because of well-to-do, affluent parents who oppose vaccines as well. In New York City alone, there were over 550 cases from September of last year to the end of May. That means that more than half of measles cases in the United States have occurred in New York.