On July 12, 2019, Judge Mackey of the Albany County Supreme Court (see Note 1) rejected the temporary restraining order request of plaintiffs challenging the updated New York vaccine exemptions law which removed the state’s religious exemption for school immunization requirements. While this is only the first step in what is almost certain to be a long process, and full arguments were not yet heard, the content of the decision does not bode well for plaintiffs – in line with abundant jurisprudence. Continue reading “New York vaccine exemptions law – judge rejects restraining order request”
Sometimes, there’s excellent news with the fight to end vaccine-preventable diseases. On 13 June 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (see Note 1) signed a bill whereby the state of New York ended vaccine religious exemptions.
As a result of this new law, New York joins California, Arizona, Mississippi (yes, Mississippi), West Virginia (ditto), and Maine as the only states that do not allow religious exemptions, that is, allowing parents to claim that their religious beliefs are not compatible with vaccinations.
Since there are no mainstream religions that are opposed to vaccines, I have always found that this type of exemption was bogus and an excuse for parents to formalize their pseudoscientific beliefs. This put children at risk of dangerous and deadly vaccine-preventable diseases.
For New York, the removal of the religious exemption is critical. The center of the current US measles epidemic, which has struck over 1000 individuals, seems to be in the ultra-orthodox Jewish population in the state who have abused the exemptions. This gave us an unvaccinated population, concentrated in a small area, that was susceptible to a highly contagious and dangerous disease.
Anti-vaccine nutjobs, like Jim Meehan and Del Bigtree, using disgusting tropes like claiming that mandatory vaccinations are like the Holocaust, have tried to fan the flames of the anti-vaccine dogma by making the religious exemptions to vaccination as some religious liberty issue.
Of course, the legislative process to get this bill passed was not easy. According to an article in the New York Times:
The tension over the issue was readily apparent in the Capitol on Thursday as hundreds of angry opponents — many with young children and infants — pleaded with lawmakers to reject the bill, sometimes invoking the will of God, other times their rights as parents. The show of raw emotion affected even supporters of the bill.
Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Long Island Republican, framed the bill as “an attack on people’s First Amendment rights.” He added, “It’s still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life.”
As the vote came to a head, emotions were high:
As the Assembly vote slowly came in, the speaker, Carl E. Heastie, was forced to come to the floor and count votes, calling recalcitrant members to coax the bill toward the 76-vote threshold needed for passage. Several prominent Democrats, including the chairman of the health committee, Richard N. Gottfried, bucked Assembly leadership and voted no. In the end, it narrowly passed, 77 to 53.
As soon the vote count was called, shouts of “shame” — and more colorful invective — erupted from the Assembly gallery, where opponents had gathered to watch the proceedings. Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry attempted to restore order, but the screams continued; unable to stop the shouting, Mr. Aubry took the chamber into recess as furious opponents headed into Capitol hallways.
The only shame that I see are recalcitrant legislators not voting to protect the health of children.
Nevertheless, the pro-science, pro-children, pro-health side won. And Governor Cuomo signed it into law.
This is how we stop the measles epidemic and save the lives of innocent children. Vaccines save lives. So thanks – New York eliminates vaccine religious exemptions!
- When I was in graduate school, studying real biomedical science as opposed to anti-vaccine pseudoscience, I was a canvasser for Governor Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo who was subsequently elected governor of New York. Thus, I was 0.000047% responsible for this bill. You can thank me by buying me a beer.
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In 2014, the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of New York rejected a claim brought by three plaintiff families against various aspects of New York’s school immunization requirements. The decision did not include any legal innovation: it was completely based on well-established precedent that schools can deny religious exemptions. But it offers a chance to reflect on what that precedent is, why it is in place, and what it means for us.
The take-home point? Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.
In other words, those who vaccinate need to speak up and make it clear to their elected representatives that they want state law to protect their children – and the community – against outbreaks of preventable diseases. The laws will not enact themselves, and our representatives need to know the public wants this protection, that the public does not want high rates of measles cases or other diseases.
Just like the diseases, anti-vaccine legislative successes, such as maintaining religious exemptions, are preventable. And just like the diseases, doing nothing won’t prevent them. Continue reading “Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines”
On 7 November 2017, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals mostly upheld a Federal District’s Court decision (pdf) to grant a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Michigan vaccine regulations that require parents seeking an exemption from school immunization requirements have an interview with health department personnel first. The decision reinforced the strong support our courts have provided states’ efforts to increase vaccines rates.
On July 26, 2017 a Court of Appeals in Indiana interpreted a custody decree to require an unvaccinated child to be vaccinated. In doing so, it overturned an earlier, problematic ruling by a trial court. This case has important lessons for families in this situation, including the importance of the content of custody decrees, and – although it’s not clear from the decision – the importance of countering anti-vaccine, unreliable experts. It also rejected the use of a religious exemption to vaccines to prevent the child from being vaccinated. Continue reading “Religious exemption to vaccines – Indiana court rules against mother”