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Officials Push For New York Lawmakers To End Religious Vaccination Exemptions

At A Glance

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - The measles outbreak is now the worst in a quarter century and it shows no signs of stopping.

The illness popped up in New York last year and spread to 21 other states, including California.

The CDC reports there are more than 700 cases from coast to coast.

On Monday, New York City health officials shut down two schools for failing to comply with a vaccination order.

Last school year, more than 26,000 children in New York didn't get vaccinated because of their religion.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Commissioner of Health Patricia Ruppert are pushing for lawmakers to pass legislation repealing all non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for children. They say the legislation isn't about politics, it's about protecting children and their families, CBS2's Jessica Layton reported.

Watch: Officials Push For New Law Barring All Non-Medical Vaccination Exceptions

Such exemptions are believed to have led to the current outbreak.

So far, 202 measles cases have been reported in Rockland County.

"This bill will be a godsend," Day said.


Day defiantly called the religious exemption that allowed more than 26,000 kids across the state to go to school and daycare without their shots a hole in the system that's being abused. He says the outbreak is a crisis situation.

"The pushback is mostly from anti-vaxxers," Day said. "They are loud, very vocal, also very ignorant."

New York allows schools to grant religious exemption to vaccines. 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.

Web Extra: Sen. Brad Hoylman explains his bill ending non-medical exemptions to vaccination:

Feeling helpless given the eight month measles crisis in Rockland County, Day and Ruppert brought their fight to the state capitol to make sure Albany understands the seriousness of what's happening in his county, pleading for help from legislators to do something at a higher level of government.

"We see people take advantage of it not because of religious beliefs but because they believe in junk science," St. Sen. David Carlucci said. Carlucci represents Rockland and Westchester counties and believes that loophole is fueling the wildfire-like spread of measles.

Right now, Rockland County has 202 confirmed cases of the preventable but dangerous disease. In New York City, there are 423 cases.

"This is exactly the action that needs to be taken," Dr. Ruppert said.

In lobbying for the bill that would end all non0medical exemptions, Ruppert points to the success of a similar law passed in California a few years ago.

Despite the science, some parents remain steadfast in their feelings and, according to them, their faith.

"It's my religious beliefs. I will put something into my child to alter their immune system," one parent said.

"There's no such thing as a religious exemption. The bottom line here now is that in addition to the fear factor we have, we've had babies in ICUs. We've had a baby born with measles. When are we going to wake up and say 'You know something, let's do the right thing here.' Let's do something that was done willingly years ago until people got in the middle, raised approaches and thoughts that were debunked years ago, and now to the direct detriment to the health of other people in the state," Day said. "It makes no sense. We need this legislation passed. And again, as mentioned by a number of my colleagues up here in Albany, to wait is a recipe for medical disaster. I can't make it more clear than that."

Lawmakers against the bill were not willing to talk about their opposition on camera Monday.

There would most certainly be legal challenges to the bill, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who earlier this month called this a serious amendment issue, had this to say given the current crisis:

"Your health is not just your health, your health is my health, and your child's health is my child's health, and that's the public health awareness," he said. "I think Rockland County is right, and I think New York City is right, and the state is working with them to address this as a public health emergency. And I don't think, in this case, the religious exemption is appropriate."

The bill is still in committee. Legislators say they're working hard to get the support they need in the senate and assemble to bring it to the floor for a vote.

There's no timeline for when that will happen, and no guarantee that it will.

Lawmakers say they want to get it done in this legislative session, which ends on June 19th, ideally in time for next school year.

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