Opinion: Science-based policy gets a booster shot

By State Senator Brad Hoylman

With the new school year, there’s a new law going into effect, too. This year, faced with a statewide measles outbreak of historic proportions, I sponsored legislation that ends all non-medical exemptions to New York’s vaccination requirements for school attendance.

For some people who’ve been misled by the so-called anti-vaxx movement, vaccines are part of a widespread conspiracy between government and drug companies to harm our children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As your State Senator, it’s my job to base public policy on evidence to make our constituents’ lives better. Strong vaccine laws do just that. When California passed a law similar to ours four years ago, their immunization rates for kindergartners rose nearly five percentage points.

Plus, decades of comprehensive medical research and evidence tell us that vaccines are safe and effective. They remain one of the most critical tools to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevented at least ten million deaths globally between 2000 and 2015.

And it’s not just healthy, vaccinated children we should be concerned about. Across New York, kids who are fighting cancer and those who are immunosuppressed quite literally depend on the rest of us getting these vaccinations for their survival because they can’t be vaccinated themselves. When nearly all of us are vaccinated (experts peg it at around ninety-five percent of the population), it is much harder for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread, and those who can’t be vaccinated—such as immunocompromised kids, infants and pregnant women—are protected. This is known as “herd immunity.”

When we voted on this legislation, I read a moving letter on the Senate floor from a young woman named Teela, a survivor of stage 4 lymphoma. Teela wrote that giving children vaccines would allow her and others like her to “be normal people, live normal lives and not be afraid of dying because somebody near us has the measles,” adding, “We have already put in so much work just to be alive.”

Parents of kids like Teela have reason to be concerned. Data from the New York State and New York City Departments of Health shows that non-medical exemptions from vaccination have been steadily increasing each year. In fact, exemption rates at New York City private schools tripled in just six years.

One unvaccinated child with an exemption who contracted measles attended school in Brooklyn, causing forty-four cases of measles, more than half of which were fellow students with non-medical exemptions.

Immunocompromised children like Teela should be able to attend school without fearing for their lives due to a disease that was thought to be eradicated almost twenty years ago. We can’t risk a return to the days before safe and effective vaccines, when many children infected with the measles either died or suffered lifelong disabilities as a result.

Thanks to our new law, we’ve helped ensure we don’t backslide on the modern miracle of vaccines and our most vulnerable kids will have more protections than ever before to ensure they can enjoy the school year.

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