Despite a record-breaking measles outbreak legislation to eliminate religious vaccine exemptions has stalled, drawing hundreds to the New York State Capitol in Albany to rally against the bill.
New York remains one of the hardest hit with the measles outbreak - namely in Rockland County - prompting state lawmakers to propose a bill that would bar parents from not vaccinating their children.
That legislation has come under heavy scrutiny from parents and advocates who believe that vaccinations can have unintended consequences for children, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was at the forefront of a rally in Albany on Tuesday.
The CDC stated that the number of measles reported across the country rose by 75 last week, bringing the total to 839 in 23 states, the highest number of cases the United States has seen since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Hundreds of those cases have been reported in New York, with approximately 80 percent of those cases coming from Rockland County.
In response to the outbreak, Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz sponsored a bill that would mandate that vaccines be required by law, outside of potential medical concerns. The bill has seen mixed reactions from lawmakers and is expected to be voted on by the Senate as soon as next week. The legislation has not yet been approved by the state Assembly as the debate of the issue continues.
Presently, New York law allows schools to grant religious exemptions to getting vaccines. The new bill would change that. A “written and signed statement from the parent or guardian saying they object because of sincere and genuine religious beliefs” is permitted under state law. California and Mississippi are currently the only states that completely bar exemptions other than for medical reasons.
An anti-vaccination rally hosted in Monsey on Monday drew the ire of local officials in Rockland.
“Tonight’s event and the misinformation being shared at it runs counter to every statement from the medical experts and elected officials of our county,” the statement said. “This type of propaganda endangers the health and safety of children within our community and around the world, and must be denounced in the strongest language possible.”
The CDC said that this is the highest number of measles cases reported since the virus was eliminated in 2000. The previous high was in 2014, when 667 cases were reported.
The states reporting measles cases are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.
“Measles elimination” has been described by the CDC as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. Measles is no longer endemic in the United States. The virus has been deemed “eliminated” in the country since 2000.
"This is a wakeup call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease – a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said. “These cases haven’t happened overnight. Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow.”
According to UNICEF, measles is highly contagious, more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or influenza. The virus can be contracted by someone up to two hours after an infected person has left a room. It spreads through the air and infects the respiratory tract, potentially killing malnourished children or babies too young to be vaccinated. Once infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children.
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