Vaccines: Protecting our children from measles

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  • NYS Senator James Skoufis (Photo provided)

While I recognize that some individuals have good-faith concerns about vaccines, there comes a point where we must follow the scientific consensus and ensure the public's health is protected.

Growing up in middle school, I often played a game called "Oregon Trail." Set in the mid-1800s, one's mission was to lead a caravan of Americans out west and overcome challenges along the way, one of which was avoiding diseases such as smallpox, dysentery, and measles. Now, in 2019, at the same time we are testing driver-less cars and printing 3-D body parts for surgery, a debate is raging in Albany and in the Hudson Valley about what to do regarding the measles public health crisis. Prior to this outbreak, never in a million years did I imagine the state Legislature would be discussing measles, a disease we eradicated nearly twenty years ago. Yet, here we are.

With the outbreak's epicenter in densely populated Rockland County, most of the Senate District that I represent is disproportionately at risk. In particular, babies who are not yet mature enough to receive vaccines and adults with compromised immune systems, such as individuals undergoing chemotherapy, are at exceptionally high risk. No Hudson Valley parents should ever have to worry about taking their child shopping or to the park out of fear for contracting measles. The present situation is an outrage and lawmakers must act.

New York State permits a so-called "religious exemption" for vaccines, despite the fact not one, single organized religion objects to immunizations. In other words, our state's religious exemption currently allows some individuals and groups to pretend as if there are genuine religious reasons to opt-out when, in fact, every religion from Christianity to Islam to Judaism to Scientology has no issues whatsoever with immunization. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses, who previously denounced vaccines, revised their doctrine in 1952 and now promote immunization. With over 600 cases of measles in New York — the most in the nation — and counting, the time is now to end the state's nonsensical and dangerous religious exemption.

I'm a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I draw a line in the sand, however, when someone's self-professed First Amendment rights endanger their own children and, importantly, other families' children. In recent days, I've heard vaccine opponents throw around the bumper sticker slogan, "my child, my choice." Putting aside the inherent dangers for your own son or daughter, let's make a deal: it's your choice if you agree to keep your unvaccinated child far away from everyone else's children.

I'm co-sponsoring S.2994, legislation to end the religious exemption, because enough is enough. I don't care what the political repercussions are: the Hudson Valley faces a public health crisis and I am not going to sit idly by. Vaccines save lives, and unless there is a legitimate medical reason why someone can’t be vaccinated, immunizations ought to be required if that individual wants to be in the public and interact with others.

Disappointingly, the Governor recently claimed ending the religious exemption is “legally questionable,” a statement that couldn’t be further from the truth. Other states have successfully eliminated religious exemptions - and saw immunization rates dramatically increase as a result. When tested in court, those pro-vaccine efforts have prevailed every time with judges consistently ruling the laws as constitutional. I'm calling on Governor Cuomo to get his facts straight and join this important legislative endeavor.

While I recognize that some individuals have good-faith concerns about vaccines, there comes a point where we must follow the scientific consensus and ensure the public's health is protected. The legislation I'm co-sponsoring to end the religious exemption does just that. We've already wasted too much time debating this issue. It's time to take immediate action on behalf of our state's children.

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