Bill would eliminate religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations




The question of whether or not parents should vaccinate their children has long been a topic of controversy, but here in New York, a new bill proposed January 25 would repeal the right to exempt children from vaccinations due to religious beliefs. The bill (S.6017/A.8329) is sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, and by Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.

Existing state law requires all children in New York to receive certain immunizations for poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, HiB, hepatitis B, and varicella. Medical exemptions would still be allowed under the proposed law.

“There is a virtual 100 percent consensus in the medical community that vaccinations should happen; there is no excuse for people not to be vaccinated,” Dinowitz said.

The March of Dimes was the first organization to publicly support the bill.  Members of the organization attended a press conference in Albany this week to advocate for the legislation.

Founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for maternal and infant health with a mission to prevent premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. This advocacy group has supported the use and development of vaccines for more than 75 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the first five months of 2014, the number of measles cases in the United States reached the highest level since 1994.

Medical experts argue that in order to achieve effective protection against infectious disease, a “herd immunity” of 95 to 99 percent must be attained. This means that if the number of vaccinated children dips below 95 percent, there is a much greater chance of an epidemic occurring.

According to state data from 2013-2014, there are at least 285 schools in New York with an immunization rate below 85 percent, including 170 schools below 70 percent, far below the CDC’s goal of at least a 95 percent vaccination rate to maintain herd immunity, according to language in the bill.

“Herd immunity is critical because it protects those children who are too sick or too young to be vaccinated. The resurgence of diseases once thought to be eradicated in the U.S., such as measles, is cause for great concern and requires decisive action by state leadership”, Dr. Anita Mohan Ware, a neonatologist at Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan. The bill currently resides in the Health Committee in both the Senate and Assembly. If passed, the law would take effect immediately.

On the flip side, there are groups that strongly oppose this bill. My Kids My Choice is a New York based anti-vaccination group.  This group argues that this bill gives state government unimpeded access to children, and that parents should have freedom of choice whether to vaccinate their own children.

“This bill is completely anti-religious, anti-faith, anti-family, and does nothing to advance public health” said Rita Palma, one of the founders of My Kids My Choice.

Some parents claim to have handed in doctor’s notes stating that a vaccine can potentially harm their child, but a school board can reject this, which can prevent their children from being enrolled in K-12 school. For many parents, this is considered unethical, and an infringement upon freedom.