Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill prohibiting religious exemptions to vaccination requirements into law on Thursday shortly after the state Assembly and Senate passed the measure in response to measles outbreaks in Brooklyn and Rockland County.
Parents no longer will be able to secure nonmedical exemptions to allow children who have not been immunized to attend school.
"While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks," Cuomo said in a statement on Thursday night.
Since October the city Health Department has documented 588 cases of measles, with three-quarters of those occurring in Williamsburg. That number represents more than half of the 1,022 cases confirmed nationwide.
"The fact that New York state has the overwhelming majority of these measles cases is shameful, and we must step up to protect New Yorkers' health," said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
The bill narrowly passed the Assembly 77–53, with just one vote more than necessary to attain a majority in the 150-seat chamber. Some lawmakers objected to what they saw as an infringement on New Yorkers' First Amendment right to freedom of religion. "The point before us today is, should we allow people to exercise their religion as they see fit?" said Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, a Democrat from Greenburgh in Westchester County.
Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly health committee, helped the bill advance out of committee Thursday but voted against it during the full Assembly vote.
Dr. Arthur Fougner, president of the state Medical Society and an OB/GYN in Manhasset, said the measles vaccine is safe and effective and noted that links to autism have been "thoroughly debunked."
"It’s clear that the risk of the disease is worse than the risk of the vaccine," he said.