Lawmakers in New York advanced a law on Thursday ending vaccination exemptions based on a family’s religious belief, as the country is in the grips of its worst measles outbreak in decades.
The New York Assembly voted 77-53 to pass the measure, which eliminates religious and other nonmedical exemptions for schoolchildren across the state.
After the final vote tally was announced, howling protesters, including the parents of unvaccinated children, filled the chamber, chanting “shame on you,” until lawmakers moved to recess.
The New York Senate is poised to vote on the bill later in the day; its passage would send the bill to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who says he supports getting rid of religious exemptions for vaccines.
Cuomo on Wednesday said the law is necessary in what he described as a state health crisis.
“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,” Cuomo said.
Assembly member Patricia Fahy echoed Cuomo’s stance before voting in support of the measure. “When we put the rest of the public at risk,” she said, individual choices to not vaccinate children become “another matter.”
The debate around issue has grown more urgent with measles cases concentrated in ultra-Orthodox areas of New York, including Rockland County and parts of Brooklyn.
Opponents of the push to eliminate exemptions to vaccinations view it as an attack on religious freedom, but backers argue that the vaccine holdouts are putting other schoolchildren at risk.
A small number of other states including California, Mississippi and Arizona have already passed laws banning vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.