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New York eliminates religious exemptions for vaccines

By Darryl Coote

June 14 (UPI) -- New York has eliminated religious exemptions from school vaccination requirements amid the state's worst measles outbreak in 25 years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law Thursday that ends non-medical exemptions from mandatory vaccinations for school children.

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"The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe," he said in a statement. "This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis."

The move comes as the state has been battling a measles outbreak with more than 800 cases recorded since September, with the majority reported in the Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn and Rockland County.

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This year, there have been 1,022 cases confirmed in 28 states, the most since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opponents to the law say it goes against religious freedom. Cuomo said he respects their concern, but his first job is to protect public health.

"By signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks."

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New York joins California, West Virginia, Maine and Mississippi to have banned non-medical exemptions for vaccines.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker applauded the new law.

"Immunizations give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases and are safe and effective," he said. "The efforts taken today stand in stark contrast to the disturbing anti-vaccination trends nationwide and underscore New York's commitment to protecting public health."

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