Medical Groups, County Health Officials Support Vaccines

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -

New York state must allow only medical exemptions for vaccinations, members of more than two dozen medical organizations and county health officials said Monday as the number of reported measles cases continued to rise nationwide.

Representatives from 28 physician, nurse and health advocacy groups, and public health organizations held a news conference near the state Capitol in downtown Albany to support legislation that would ban religious exemptions for required childhood vaccinations.

“Ensuring that enough of the population is immune to a contagious disease by vaccination is vitally important to protect those who are not medically eligible for certain vaccines,” including infants, expecting women and people with a weakened immune system, said Dr. Linda Effren of the American College of Physicians’ New York chapter.

Earlier in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 764 measles cases have been reported in 23 states so far this year, making it the biggest measles breakout since 1994, when 963 were reported. The current total of cases increased by 60 over last week, according to the CDC.

Most of the cases reported over the past four months have occurred in New York state, where health officials say the majority of the cases have occurred in Jewish communities in New York City and nearby Rockland County. State and city health officials have confirmed 675 cases, including 215 in Rockland as of last Friday.

Also attending the news conference were state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, of the Bronx, and Sen. Brad Hoylman, of Manhattan. The Democrats have introduced legislation that would eliminate all nonmedical vaccination exemptions, including those based on religious beliefs, something the lawmakers referred to as “religious loopholes.”

The medical and public health organizations urged lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass the legislation as soon as possible so it can be sent to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who initially voiced concerns over the First Amendment legal issues involved with eliminating the religious exemptions. More recently he said such exemptions don’t hold sway over public health concerns.

Among the groups supporting the religious exemption elimination proposal are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association-New York and the Medical Society of the State of New York.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s attorney general has given state lawmakers the legal go-ahead to pursue a measure that would keep parents from exempting their children from vaccinations for religious reasons.

Attorney General William Tong offered no stance Monday on whether the General Assembly should scrap the state’s religious exemption.

But the Democrat’s formal opinion released Monday says Connecticut may “create, eliminate or suspend” the exemption. He says it is within the state’s “well-settled power to protect public safety and health.”