New York ends religious exemption for vaccination amid 'worst measles outbreak in decades'

The epicentres of the crisis are Brooklyn, in New York City, and Rockland County - both of which have sizeable Charedi communities


New York will end religious exemptions for vaccinations amid its worst measles outbreak in a generation – primarily centred on the Charedi community.

The epicentre of the crisis is thought to be Brooklyn, in New York City, and Rockland County, in upstate New York. Both have declared public health emergencies.

After New York state's legislature approved the bill on Thursday to require all children attending school or nursery to receive vaccinations, Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately signed it into law.

Exemptions will still remain for children who cannot be safely vaccinated.

According to the New York Times, hundreds of opponents to the bill descended on the state’s capital, Albany – many with young children in tow.

Governor Cuomo said: “I understand freedom of religion. We all do. We respect it. I’ve heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”

The current measles outbreak has spread to 28 states, with more than 1,000 cases recorded – the highest number since 1992.

New York State has recorded 854 cases since September, mainly in areas with large strictly-Orthodox Jewish communities.

Falling immunisation rates in Charedi households is thought to be fuelled by misinformation campaigns, featuring false claims that vaccines are contrary to halakha, or that they cause autism.

In response, the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America has argued that parents have a religious obligation to preserve human life.

It said: “There are halachic obligations to care for one’s own health as well as to take measures to prevent harm and illness to others, and Jewish law defers to the consensus of medical experts in determining and prescribing appropriate medical responses to illness and prevention.”

The majority of Charedi households in New York State do vaccinate their children.

Health officials said the outbreak represents a risk to public safety— particularly infants, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with compromised immune systems, such as patients with cancer.

The highly-contagious disease can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, which can result in brain damage.

The state has now joined a small group who do not allow exemptions on religious grounds, including Arizona, California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia.

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