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OpinionEditorial

Make it harder to skip measles vaccine

Vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are

Vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are displayed at a Walgreens pharmacy in Mill Valley, California, in 2015. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

It’s been 50 years since the current version of the measles vaccine was first distributed in the United States. And yet, here we are with another frightening — and entirely preventable — outbreak of the disease. Health officials and physicians are imploring people to get vaccinated.

At least 17 residents of Orthodox Jewish communities in Williamsburg and Rockland County have tested positive for the highly contagious disease.

Of the six children from Williamsburg who have contracted measles, none were fully vaccinated. It’s likely the Rockland cases involve children not protected by vaccination, since the vaccine — now often given as a combined immunization that prevents measles, mumps and rubella — is incredibly effective.

Some of the outbreak stemmed from local residents’ travel to Israel, where there has been an even larger occurrence of measles. But had the travelers and others been immunized, they likely wouldn’t have gotten sick.

Measles can cause fever, cough and rash, but it also can be extremely dangerous, with potentially severe complications, especially for young children and those with compromised immune systems.

While most schoolchildren in New York are required to be vaccinated, the state still provides exemptions — including a religious one. In the past, state legislators have proposed bills to eliminate all nonmedical exemptions, but they have failed to become law. Last spring, however, Brooklyn State Sen. Martin Golden sponsored legislation that would have made it even easier to receive a religious exemption — requiring only the signing of a standard form, without additional validation or information.

Luckily for the people of New York, it never got out of committee.

This latest outbreak is a clear sign of the harm vaccine exemptions can do. State legislators should put their constituents’ health first and do away with any nonmedical exemptions, including all religious ones. That could put an end to the term “measles outbreak” in New York once and for all.

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