New York Wants to Ban Religious Vaccine Exemptions to Help Control the Measles Outbreak

Orthodox groups claim it’s government coercion.

A significant number of New York State lawmakers want to end all religious exemptions given for vaccinations. Such an action has come to the fore due to Brooklyn and Queens reporting measles outbreaks. Rockland County has also reported several measles patients. About 181 New Yorkers, as of March 27, have fallen ill due to the disease. Another 153 cases have been detected in Rockland. Health officials were quick to take note, with a state of emergency being announced in on March 26. The declaration carried the unusual provision of forbidding unvaccinated children below 18 years of age to visit public places like places of worship, schools, and malls for 30 days.

Several measles cases are found in Orthodox Jewish communities. Rockland County is home to substantial numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jewish community members. Orthodox Jewish residents have avoided immunizations based on religious exemptions. New York State permits families not to undergo the vaccination program if they oppose based on religious grounds.

Religious leaders, medical professionals, and public health officials on April 4 joined officials of New York State and City to push for sorely needed expanded vaccination efforts. According to Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, many of the exemptions granted in New York State and City have no connection to religious reasons. It is merely as a few parents who do not wish to vaccinate their children. He went on to highlight the fact that such parents, by their actions, are endangering other children. Brad Holyman, a State Senator, concurred and added that the sole legitimate exemption when it comes to vaccination must come from a medical point of view.

There was an understandable wave of fear in the Orthodox community. The response on the whole, however, was a mixed one. Alexander Rapaport, an activist in the Orthodox community, said if authorities want to increase the number of the vaccinated population, then awareness should be the order of the day and not coercion. He pointed out it is bad news when the government is trying to snatch the religious exemption when they want religious individuals to cooperate with them.

Authorities deny such a move. Dr. Sheila Palevsky said the state had made no attempt to interfere in someone’s religious beliefs, but they must accept the consequence of non-vaccinations like children being forbidden to visit their schools.


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