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New York is ending religious exemptions for vaccines amid measles outbreak

Camps face new risk with measles

Amid the ongoing measles outbreak, New York lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that will require all children attending school or daycare to receive vaccinations. Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly signed the bill into law, to take effect immediately. 

The Senate voted 36-26 and the Assembly voted 77-53. The only exception to the new legislation is for children who cannot be safely vaccinated due to a medical condition. Religious exceptions will no longer be permitted.

"The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe," Cuomo said in a statement. "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.

The legislation comes as the country faces one of the worse measles outbreaks in a generation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of new measles cases this year has exceeded 1,000 in 28 states — the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

The states that have reported cases to the CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

New York State has recorded more than 800 cases of measles since September, stemming from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County. New Yorkers have infected people in four other states. 

"Today, New York is sending a strong message to people across our state that vaccines are safe and effective," State Sen. Brad Hoylman said in a statement. "We're putting science ahead of misinformation about vaccines and standing up for the rights of immunocompromised children and adults, pregnant women and infants who can't be vaccinated through no fault of their own."

Opponents of the legislation say religious freedom should not be overpowered by state laws. "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," Cuomo said. 

New York joins only a handful of states that do not allow nonmedical exemptions, including California, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maine. On Wednesday, actress Jessica Biel and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. lobbied in Sacramento against a bill that would tighten medical exemptions for vaccinations. 

Unvaccinated students in New York will now have up to 30 days to show school officials that they have received required vaccinations. 

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