Measles Outbreak: N.Y. Eliminates Religious Exemptions for Vaccinations


The measure in New York had been stalled for years because of sensitivity about ultra-Orthodox groups, which have often wielded political influence, as well as intense efforts by organizations like the Robert F. Kennedy Jr.-led Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccination group.

In another moment of legislative drama, the bill was nearly derailed by the Assembly health committee earlier on Thursday, passing only after a member, Nader J. Sayegh, a Yonkers Democrat, changed his vote to yes to break a tie, allowing the bill to proceed. Mr. Sayegh voted no on the bill once it reached the Assembly floor, but said he believed “the public and the Assembly at large deserves an opportunity to vote on this matter.”

Mr. Heastie, the Assembly speaker, had attended the committee meeting to help usher the bill to the floor, in an indication of how close the vote was expected to be.

As committee members entered the meeting, activists chanted, “Please vote no!” and held handmade placards reading “Protect 1st Amendment: God’s Watching.”

Opponents then crowded into the meeting itself, some carrying newborns and small children. Several opponents cried when the measure passed out of committee.

At the hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, argued that California’s actions increased vaccination rates there, and had helped fend off future outbreaks of the measles, which can be fatal in rare cases. “Vaccinations have saved countless millions of lives,” he said.

Later, as opponents of the bill filled the Assembly gallery, several lawmakers described wrestling with a complicated decision, pitting parental prerogative and public health.


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