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OpinionEditorial

Vaccine reform in New York needs a push from Gov. Cuomo

Merck, the sole U.S. supplier of measles vaccines,

Merck, the sole U.S. supplier of measles vaccines, has increased production amid the largest surge of the disease in 25 years. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

What will it take for elected officials across the state — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself — to understand the severe repercussions of allowing people to flout the requirement that school-age children must be vaccinated?

Clearly, an outbreak of more than 600 measles cases statewide hasn’t been enough. One yeshiva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been linked to more than 40 cases.

Hundreds of passengers on a cruise ship docked in St. Lucia were quarantined because a crew member was diagnosed with the measles. The ship’s doctor needed 100 doses of vaccine for the ship’s passengers, which apparently is owned by the Church of Scientology. The church hasn’t taken an official position on vaccination, although some celebrity members have been vocal vaccine opponents.

State must prevent another outbreak

Ending this national outbreak won’t be easy, although officials in New York City and Rockland County — the two epicenters — are trying by using the limited tools they have. It is critical, and about time, that the state acts to prevent a new outbreak of measles or of another preventable contagious disease.

That’s where legislation to eliminate what is known as the religious exemption to vaccination comes in to play. Bills sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz would leave New York with only a medical exemption to vaccination — so that only physically compromised children could avoid immunization and still attend school. The law would take affect immediately, though there would be some sort of a grace period for students to be vaccinated. Once most of the population has received shots, then, medical experts say, herd immunity would protect the few who are vulnerable, and outbreaks would not occur.

Often, however, the religious exemption isn’t used for religious reasons. No major religion opposes vaccination. What’s really happening is that many parents buy into false claims spread on social media that vaccinations can cause injury or autism, and use the religious exemption as a cover.

No link between vaccines and autism

It’s important to understand the science. Studies as recently as this year found that the measles vaccine doesn’t increase a child’s risk of developing autism. And a separate study by neurologist Dr. Samuel Berkovic found that children who experienced seizures after vaccination all shared the same gene mutations for epilepsy. Vaccination may have precipitated the seizures, but those seizures were inevitable and just as easily could have occurred when a child got a cold. The cause of the epilepsy, Berkovic found, was genetic, even though it appeared to the untrained eye that vaccines were to blame.

The New York State Senate seems poised to vote to end the religious exemption. The State Assembly must do the same. A carefully drafted law can survive constitutional concerns that religious expression is being impaired. Disappointingly, Cuomo’s position has been unclear. He must lead this effort. Doing anything else would be reckless and irresponsible and put the state’s most vulnerable children at risk.

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