New York issues stricter rules on vaccine medical exemptions, sparks fresh debate

The regulations are meant to keep people from securing medical exemptions for non-medical causes to avoid vaccinations. 2019 marked the biggest measles outbreak in decades in the United States with 1,203 individual cases of measles confirmed in 30 states

The New York State Department of Health and Office of Children and Family Services has sparked a debate after it issued emergency regulations for non-medical exemptions for children attending a school or childcare. It is meant to keep people from securing medical exemptions for non-medical causes to avoid vaccinations. The year 2019 marked the biggest measles outbreak in decades in the United States with 1,203 individual cases of measles confirmed in 30 states.

It is the greatest number of cases reported in the US since 1992 and measles was declared eliminated in 2000, says the Centre for Disease Control. More than 75% of the cases this year have been linked to outbreaks in New York and New York City. The exemptions for non-medical reasons was ended in June. 

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement, "These regulations will ensure that those who have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccinated are still able to obtain medical exemptions, while also preventing abuse of this option by those without such medical conditions. Immunizations are safe and effective and give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases. We will continue to do everything possible to promote public health for all New Yorkers, especially our children."

Pro vaccination advocates have welcomed the move. Amy Pisani, Executive Director of Vaccinate Your Family said that the availability of medical exemptions adequately covers all the valid reasons for a child to be exempted from vaccination. "Individuals who decline immunizations are making a choice that puts their own children and the larger community at risk of deadly diseases. By following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended immunization schedule, parents can be assured they are following the best tested and most effective schedule for their children," she said. 

However, increased scrutiny has irked non-vaccinators. "New York is meddling in the doctor/patient relationship.  A bureaucrat with a small list of what 'qualifies' for a medical exemption is suddenly more qualified to determine if a child can have a medical exemption, versus a doctor who has walked through an adverse reaction with a child," said Connie Johnson of Michigan for Vaccine Choice. "It is unconscionable," she said, pointing out that monetary award in a vaccine court for an injury would not qualify for a medical exemption. She said that they believe that the system would not safeguard and protect their families as claimed. "The 'science' has shown pro-vaccine messages, by untrusted strangers will backfire."


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