Brooklyn Boro

State bans religious exemptions to vaccines as city measles outbreak reaches 588

Two more Williamsburg schools have been closed for failing to comply with public health emergency mandates.

June 14, 2019 Scott Enman
The measles outbreak has spread to Sunset Park with three non-Jewish individuals, including two public school students, contracting the disease. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

As New York City leads the country’s worst measles outbreak in decades — with 588 confirmed cases as of June 10 — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Thursday banning any non-medical exemption to vaccinations, including religious exemptions.

There have been 1,022 cases of measles in 22 states, with 922 confirmed cases in New York. On top of the 588 in New York City — a number up 22 since June 3 — there are 334 elsewhere in the state.

“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe. This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis,” Cuomo said.

“While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks.”

Both the State Senate and Assembly voted to repeal the exemption, which allowed parents to prevent their children from receiving vaccines required to attend school based on religious beliefs.

Cuomo signed the legislation within minutes after it passed both houses. The new law goes into effect immediately, but unvaccinated children will have up to 30 days to prove that they have received the proper immunization.

“We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis,” said Manhattan State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “The atrocious peddlers of junk science and fraudulent medicine who we know as anti-vaxxers have spent years sowing unwarranted doubt and fear, but it is time for legislators to confront them head on.”

Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn told the Brooklyn Eagle that rabbinic leadership has been pushing everyone, including the ultra-Orthodox, to get vaccinated.

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“Despite all our efforts, a small fraction of people here have been influenced by anti-vaxxer ideology that spreads fear of vaccines,” he said. “Unfortunately, this infects people from all ethnicities and religions and we are not immune to those same anti-vaxxer forces.”

The epidemic has been mostly contained to the Orthodox Jewish community. Williamsburg has 437 cases citywide, about 74 percent, and Borough Park has 100 confirmed cases, or roughly 17 percent.

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency on April 9 requiring mandatory measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations for residents who live in the 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249 ZIP codes.

At press time, 51,124 MMR vaccinations had been administered to children aged 6 months to 18 years citywide.

The city’s Health Department also announced on Thursday that it had closed two additional schools in Williamsburg for failing to comply with the emergency order, bringing the total number of shuttered institutions to 11.

UTA of Williamsburg – Yeshiva Torah V’Yirah at 590 Bedford Ave. was closed for a second time for failing to provide sufficient proof of immunity for a child and for allowing unvaccinated children and staff on site.

UTA 212 at 212 Williamsburg St. was also shuttered for allowing 36 students who were unvaccinated or did not have the required number of MMR vaccinations on campus.

“The spread of measles may be slowing down but we are not,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “This is a message to all schools that have been ordered to exclude unvaccinated children — we will not stop our enforcement until the outbreak comes to an end.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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