Governor signs legislation removing non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements

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ALBANY – Governor Cuomo signed legislation on Thursday removing non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements for children.

The approval by both houses of the state legislature and signature by the governor was prompted by the outbreak of measles in New York.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1,022 cases of measles in 22 states. As of June 10, there have been 588 confirmed cases in New York City and 334 confirmed cases of measles elsewhere in New York State, including 266 in Rockland County, 43 in Orange County, 18 in Westchester County, seven in Sullivan County, and one in Greene County.

“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe,” said the governor. “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 he “understand(s) and respect(s) 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.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of Kingston, a Democrat like Cuomo and both houses of the legislature, voted against the bill, saying addressing the public health crisis “is a laudable and well intentioned goal, but the bill passed by the Assembly (Thursday) to repeal the religious exemption from vaccinations raises several concerns; none of which relate to the science around immunizations.”

Cahill said, “One of the founding principles of our democracy is freedom of religion. An incremental roll back of this fundamental right sets a dangerous precedent and as a lawmaker, that alone was enough to vote against this bill on the floor (Thursday).”

Other Hudson Valley lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support the measure.

Senator James Skoufis (D, Woodbury): “The clock is ticking, outbreaks are rising, and here in the state Senate, we are doing something about it. Vaccines save lives, and unless there is a legitimate medical reason why someone can’t be vaccinated, immunizations out to be required if that individual wants to be in public spaces.”

Senator Jennifer Metzger (D, Rosendale): “Unvaccinated children put at great risk children and adults who are immunocompromised, pregnant women, infants, and seniors and it is my responsibility as a legislator to reduce public health risks and save lives.”

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R, New Windsor): “Today’s bipartisan passage … is rooted in the desire to protect overall public health of our state. This law coincides with the policies adhered to by the CDC, the AMA and the APA and health commissions throughout the United States.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson (D, Newburgh): “This is a common sense health bill. There is no greater priority and compelling state interest than protecting the public health.”

Rockland County Executive Edwin Day, a Republican, said the new law “should lead to a substantial increase in vaccination rates and to improved protection of our vulnerable residents; infants, the Immunocompromised and those who have legitimate medical issues.” He said, “With Rockland being the epicenter of the current measles outbreak, we greatly appreciate that our advocacy and local efforts were heard and acknowledged.”