BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Around 150 “anti-vaxxer” protesters jammed the lobby of New York University College of Dentistry last Wednesday evening — trying to get into a town hall on rent laws.
The July 24 event was intended as an opportunity for the public to learn more about the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act. On hand to answer questions were state Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, Assemblymembers Harvey Epstein and Deborah Glick, and Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Keith Powers.
But the phalanx of protesters were not interested in tenant protections. They were there instead to decry a bill passed this year ending nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations in schools. The protesters also railed against a bill proposed by Krueger that would allow teenagers as young as 14 to be vaccinated without parental consent.
Although some of the protesters were able to enter the auditorium where the town hall took place, many were temporarily held outside by police or stayed outside of the building. The sound of people pushing against the auditorium door and shouts of “Let us in!” occasionally interrupted the forum.
Those protesters who made it inside periodically shouted out, booed and asked, “What about our children?” at legislators as they answered questions, before being hushed and told to “get their own event” by others in attendance trying to learn about the new tenant protections.
The bill banning nonmedical vaccination exemptions was sponsored by Hoylman in the state Senate and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz and signed into law in mid-June. It repealed a section of New York State public health law that allowed parents or guardians who hold “genuine and sincere religious beliefs” against vaccinations to forgo immunizing their school-age children.
“This is an anti-religion bill, anti-family bill and anti-constitutional,” said one of the protesters, a member of the New York Alliance for Vaccine Rights. A New York judge recently rejected a request by attorneys Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Michael Sussman to block the law in a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.
The protester said that she traveled from her home on Long Island just to protest at the town hall, and that she and other alliance members — in an attempt to repeal the law — were planning to protest at every future public appearance of any of the politicians who voted in support of the bill.
The push to end nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations in New York came after measles outbreaks in Brooklyn and Rockland County. Both outbreaks occurred in predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities that had been reluctant to vaccinate their children, in part due to “anti-vaxxer” propaganda claiming the vaccines cause autism and are made from aborted fetal cells, according to The New York Times.
Since last September, there have been 637 confirmed cases of measles in New York City and 372 confirmed cases elsewhere in the state. According to the Times, the number of measles cases in the U.S. is currently at a 25-year high.