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Amid measles outbreak, lawmakers renew push to end religious exemptions for vaccines

The bill, which was first introduced in 2014, would end religious exemptions for vaccines for children attending any schools in the state.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, center, and Assemb. Jeffrey

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, center, and Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowtiz, right, are each sponsoring a bill that would eliminate religious exemptions for vaccines in New York. Photo Credit: Alison Fox

State officials on Thursday advocated for a bill that would eliminate religious exemptions for vaccines for children attending any schools in the state.

The push for the bill, which was first introduced in 2014, comes as the Rockland County executive declared a state of emergency in the county following an outbreak of measles. There have been 161 confirmed cases of the contagious disease in the county, according to State Sen. Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman, who is sponsoring the current bill in the Senate (Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowtiz is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly), said there have been 259 confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn and Queens from October 2018 through April 3. The bill would still allow for medical exemptions.

"If it's not measles today, it could be mumps or whooping cough at a later date," Hoylman said. "This is about all vaccinations... and the need to get ahead of these outbreaks through sensible science-based vaccination policies."

State Sen. David Carlucci of Rockland County said 700 people have been vaccinated in Rockland County since the state of emergency was declared last week. As part of that declaration, anyone under 18 who is not vaccinated against the virus is banned from public places in the county.

"We have to wake up in New York State or else there's going to be a massive crisis," said Carlucci, standing by the steps of City Hall on Thursday. "It's very simple: just remove all nonmedical exemptions, make it clear and simple to school administrators, make it clear and simple to parents, cut through the nonsense that's out there and let's govern by the science or else we're going to have a real, real problem on our hands."

Linda Prine, the president of the New York City chapter of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, recalled a recent incident when a colleague said he was "ready to tear my hair out" because another patient asked for a religious exemption, explaining "we just don't believe in it."

"And this happens to us a lot. People are just not informed and they think that vaccines are dangerous," she said, adding that: "vaccines are safe, they save lives."

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