ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York eliminated the religious exemption to vaccine requirements for schoolchildren Thursday, as the nation’s worst measles outbreak in decades prompts states to reconsider giving parents ways to opt out of immunization rules.
The Democrat-led Senate and Assembly voted Thursday to repeal the exemption, which allows parents to cite religious beliefs to forego getting their child the vaccines required for school enrollment.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the measure minutes after the final vote. The law takes effect immediately but will give unvaccinated students up to 30 days after they enter a school to show they’ve had the first dose of each required immunization.
With New York’s move, similar exemptions are still allowed in 45 states, though lawmakers in several of them have introduced their own legislation to eliminate the waiver.
The issue is hotly contested and debate around it has often been emotional, pitting cries that religious freedom is being curtailed against warnings that public health is being endangered. After the vote in the Assembly, many of those watching from the gallery erupted in cries of “shame!” One woman yelled obscenities down to the lawmakers below.
The debate has only intensified with this year’s measles outbreak , which federal officials recently said has surpassed 1,000 illnesses, the highest in 27 years.
“And these are the religious people?!”
The state Capitol turned into a chaotic scene Thursday as both houses of legislature — and eventually Gov. Cuomo — passed a bill that will end New York’s policy of allowing religious exemptions from vaccine requirements.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s sponsor, got cursed out and flat-out threatened at one point by opponents of the legislation after it got passed and sent to the Senate floor.
“We’ll be back for you Jeffrey!” shouted one man in Orthodox religious garb, who was fuming in the gallery with others, many of whom had children with them.
“Motherf–ker!” screamed another person. “Shame!”
“The government does not have the right to interfere with my personal religious beliefs,” said one woman. “We will not vaccinate. What’s going to happen is we’re going to either home school or we’re going to move out of state.”