Let’s start with some facts.
There have been 550 cases of the measles reported in NYC since the outbreak began last fall. The epidemic has now spread to four boroughs; the Bronx is the only borough not to have a case — yet. Outside of NYC, 310 more cases have been reported statewide.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that there have been 971 measles cases nationwide in 2019, the largest outbreak since 1992. The CDC report came with a warning: If the outbreaks — particularly those in New York, which is the disease’s epicenter — continue through the summer and fall, the United States could lose its official status as having eliminated measles, a huge step backward for public health.
Here are two more facts: The measles vaccine is safe and effective. And no major religion opposes vaccination.
So, New York elected officials shouldn’t have to think twice before supporting legislation to require vaccination for all children in school and day care, except for those who medically cannot be immunized.
And yet, with less than three weeks before the end of the legislative session in Albany, lawmakers cannot agree to end the state’s religious exemption for vaccination — even amid the public health crisis. Many of them are receiving hundreds of calls from people who oppose vaccination and want to keep the exemption in place. But what about babies, and children whose immune systems are compromised, who cannot be vaccinated? They shouldn’t have to tie up a lawmaker’s phone line to get attention.
Nevertheless, the outcry and vitriol are leading some lawmakers to hope to avoid voting at all. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins claims to have the votes to pass the bill, but the Senate is waiting for the Assembly. Perhaps the Senate should go ahead and vote, a move that could encourage the Assembly to follow suit, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take a stronger stance.
Hiding from this problem won’t solve it. For the sake of public health, our lawmakers’ disappointing silence must end.