Measles outbreaks in Brooklyn and in Rockland County in recent weeks have spurred state lawmakers to push for legislation that would end religious exemptions for vaccinating children.
“I think the state of New York needs to act decisively,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan. “This problem is only growing. We need to seriously examine the issue of non-medical exemptions. Should someone be able to endanger another adult child because of a purported religious belief?”
On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency amid a measles outbreak in Brooklyn, mainly affecting the Orthodox Jewish community.
“There’s no question that vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving,” De Blasio said in a statement. “I urge everyone, especially those in affected areas, to get their MMR vaccines to protect their children, families and communities.”
Hoylman’s bill ending religious exemptions hasn’t been embraced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In a radio interview with WAMC on Tuesday morning, Cuomo said there was a “First Amendment issue” with requiring vaccinations.
“It’s a serious public health concern, but it’s also a serious First Amendment issue,” he said. “And it is going to be a constitutional legal question. Do we have the right — does society, does government have the right to say you must vaccinate your child because I’m afraid your child is going to infect my child, even if you don’t want it done and even if it violates your religious beliefs. That’s an issue that’s going to be legally questionable and I’m sure it’s going to go down that path.”
Hoylman disagreed, pointing to court rulings on the issue.
“You do not have a First Amendment right to endanger other peoples’ children because of your religious belief,” he said. “The Supreme Court has ruled on that very question.”
Hoylman said that in part he believes religious exemptions have been used as a loophole.
“If you’re basing it on some sort of bunk that you’re reading about on the Internet being peddled by hucksters, that’s not acceptable,” he said. “You’re putting my children and everyone else’s children at risk.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters government should play a role in ensuring children are not spreading disease.
“I think when other children are around other children and it can raise a health concern, I think it is the government’s responsibility to be aware of it,” he said. “Whether there’s constitutional issues or not, I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure children are not spreading infectious diseases.”
He said, “Me, personally, I do think children should be vaccinated.”