Watch CBS News

Measles Outbreak: End To Religious Exemptions For Vaccinations Signed Into Law In New York State

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- In response to one of the worst outbreaks of measles in a generation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed off on legislation that now ends religious exemptions for vaccinations in New York.

New York state senators passed the bill Thursday evening and the governor quickly signed off on the measure.

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

"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."

Opponents of the legislation say they will continue to stand up for their rights, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported.

The bill passed in Albany could impact the health of families across the Tri-state area as the outbreak continues. Earlier Thursday, the Assembly passed the legislation that drops religious exemptions for vaccines.

Since the beginning of June, there have been 255 confirmed cases of measles in Rockland County. The outbreak, which began in October, has spread to parts of Brooklyn.

"This is a great step forward in protecting the public health here in New York. This law should lead to a substantial increase in vaccination rates and to improved protection of our most vulnerable residents," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said Thursday night.

Attorney Representing Anti-Vaxxers Speaks To CBSN New York:

State Sen. Brad Hoylman sponsored the bill. Now that vaccination are the law of the land in New York, families can only avoid vaccinations with medical reasons.

"If your kid is immunocompromised and going to school or a daycare center, you want to know that they're going to be safe," Hoylman told Sanchez via Skype. "So, I think that, in part, I'm standing up for the rights of parents to feel that their kids are safe in their own schools."

There were families fighting to maintain their right to not vaccinate their children, many citing religious reasons. Back in April, a group of parents sued the city in response to a order mandating all five zip codes of Brooklyn get vaccinated, making it a crime if you didn't.

"That scared the living daylights out of me," parent Andrea Biro said. "Like, what's going to happen? I'm a single parent. If they detain me, who's going to take care of my child?"

The Board of Health amended the order and removed the criminal penalty. In the end, a judge dismissed the case. The group plans to appeal. Its attorney, Robert Krakow, said religiously exempt students have nothing to do with the outbreak.

"We know that a high percentage of people who get measles get vaccine strain measles," Krakow said. "We know that vaccinated people get measles. Why is that happening? That has nothing to do with the religious exemption. Why are we getting rid of a fundamental right that have been here for decades?"

The bill will still allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for health reasons, like a weakened immune system.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.