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Parents, vaccine foes ask Regents to halt immunization requirement

John Gilmore, executive director of the Autism Action

John Gilmore, executive director of the Autism Action Network, stands outside the Board of Regents meeting room in Albany with parents and others opposed to New York's new law on immunizations required for school attendance. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Parents who oppose a new state law tightening enforcement of vaccinations for schoolchildren briefly interrupted a state Board of Regents meeting Monday in Albany as they pleaded for a hearing of their cause.

In mid-June, state lawmakers voted to abolish a religious exemption to the vaccine requirement, following the worst measles outbreak in the nation in 27 years — with many of the cases occurring in New York.

Supporters of the legislation, while saying they respect religious freedom, described the stricter rules as essential to protecting public health.

But some of the scores of parents who jammed a Regents conference room at the state Education Department said the legal change caught them by surprise. The protesters added that they have received notifications from their local school districts, informing them that their teenagers would be banned from summer marching-band drills, driver education classes and other activities unless they obtained vaccinations immediately. 

"They didn't give us any time to plan," said one East Northport parent, Lori Haubrich, the mother of three children.

As the meeting began, several members of the Regents board told the growing crowd that the policymaking group had no involvement in the new legislation and no plans to discuss vaccinations as one of their agenda items. The board already planned a busy morning, with much of the time scheduled for discussion and debate about potential changes in state diploma standards. 

The overflow audience was having none of that. Many in the crowd carried signs that said the new rules would result in 26,000 kids being kicked out of school.

"Can you put it on the agenda?" one parent exclaimed. 

"Issue an emergency order stopping this," another demanded.  

After a few minutes, parents and their representatives were invited to gather outside the meeting room with Elizabeth Berlin, executive deputy commissioner of the state Education Department. Several participants said later that they were told Berlin would take their requests back to the Regents to be included on the agenda another day. 

Berlin could not be reached for comment later Monday.

The state Department of Health, state Office of Children and Family Services and the Education Department issued a joint explanatory statement on vaccination requirements on June 14, one day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the legislation removing the religious exemption. The law, which took effect immediately, applies to all schools — public, private and parochial — and to child day-care settings, according to the statement.

With the new law in force, the only basis upon which a child can be exempted from immunization requirements is by certification of a licensed New York State physician that there is a medical reason why the child should not be immunized.

The state Department of Health uses the national Centers of Disease Control and Prevention's schedule for recommended immunizations and follow-up doses. That list is at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-child-combined-schedule.pdf.

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